In Nairobi’s Gikomba market, a smartly dressed man out of place in the baled lumps of second-hand clothing would probably be lured by the promise of an original polo which could be bargained for as little as Sh400 if your sheng is good enough.
But in the upmarket, polo brands are for the discerning, pricey items whose supply chain shipped some 8,800 units from Europe, the US and South Africa is being fought for viciously in the corridors of courts and intellectual property rights agency.
Polo described as a cotton shirt with a collar, a few buttons at the neck, and a short sleeve is marked by a rider on a horse holding a mallet that demonstrates the sport.
However, the direction of the rider, his mallet the number of horses are all jealously guarded items by different companies who have monopolised access of the middle-class markets who can tell one from each other.
Kenyan market has been controlled primarily by South Africa's firm LA Group for decades and listed its patent in Kenya in 2014.
The South African firm has been able to keep other brands out of Kenya and Africa, stating that it had invested in creating brand awareness and the introduction of similar brands should be curtailed.
However, in a ruling in May this year, the South African luxury clothing firm lost exclusive rights to sell polo branded clothes in Kenya after the intellectual property rights body ruled that a US firm could also sell similar apparel in the country.
SA firm LA Group had sought to block Beverly Hills Polo Club from registering patents in Kenya arguing they had spent a fortune to market themselves locally, had held patents, and sold goods in Kenya for more than 10 years and the entry of the US company would cause confusion in the brands. Kenya Industrial Property Institute assistant registrar of trademarks Eunice Njuguna however ruled that Beverly Hills Polo Club was not the same as Polo and Polo Pony patents registered by LA Group citing that polo was a descriptive name and that high-end buyer were able to tell the difference between the rival brands.
“While considering the issue of similarity I had stated that the respective trademarks are not similar and that the entry of the two marks in the Kenya register of trademarks is not contrary to provisions of section 15 (1) of the Trademarks Act,” the assistant registrar ruled.
The South African firm has maintained a hold of the high-end brand in Kenya and Africa by fighting off any entrants from the exclusive market.
Last year, LA Group won a court case for exclusive rights to the use of the Polo brand on shoes and clothing in Kenya against Wardrobe Collections Clothing stopping it from using Classic Polo as a trademark in Kenya arguing that allowing the move would create confusion among consumers to the detriment of Polo South Africa.
The Johannesburg based firm had sued for rights for exclusive use, claiming it applied and registered the use of Polo in Kenya in April 2014 and Polo Pony in January 2014.
But the tide may have turned for the South Africans who recently lost to another American brand, the US Polo Association (USPA).