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Crocodile tears end logo fight

From CNN Correspondent Andrew Brown

Top: Crocodile's logo since 1992. Middle: the agreed change replete with scales. Bottom: the Lacoste motif.
Top: Crocodile's logo since 1992. Middle: the agreed change replete with scales. Bottom: the Lacoste motif.

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- In the river crocodiles will fight each other for supremacy. In business it's much the same.

Now, two of the world's largest crocodiles have called a truce in an historic battle that's lasted nearly a quarter of a century.

French fashion giant Lacoste and a Hong Kong sportswear company called Crocodile Garments nearly tore each apart in a bitter trademark dispute.

Lacoste's right-facing logo and Crocodile's left-facing logo are so similar it's taken a generation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to establish which croc has the edge over the other.

In the 1920s, French tennis legend Rene Lacoste became known as the "crocodile" because he once promised to win a crucial match in exchange for a crocodile-skin briefcase.

Later, in 1933, he put a reptile emblem on his own line of sports clothing -- the polo shirt that he designed to replace the stiffer collared shirts used by tennis players at the time.

Fashion icon

So popular was the concept, the brand Lacoste was born and the familiar crocodile crest became a fashion icon. By the early 1980s, Lacoste had a $400 million business in the U.S. alone, according to Forbes magazine.

Tennis legend Rene Lacoste won Wimbledon and the U.S. championships twice.
Tennis legend Rene Lacoste won Wimbledon and the U.S. championships twice.

Though a downturn in popularity followed, Lacoste has made a remarkable resurgence in recent years.

Rene's son Bernard -- who is chairman at Lacoste -- says the croc symbol has been crucial to the Lacoste success.

"I think it has become something mythical and that it represents for the consumer a more quality product," he says.

But that hasn't slowed down sales at Crocodile Garments, which in Hong Kong boldly operates one of its stores right next door to a Lacoste outlet.

Crocodile Garments had a reptile trademark as early as the 1950s and in the 1990s tried to register a similar motif in China.

Lacoste did everything it could to stop Crocodile from registering in China. And it's only very recently that the crocs settled their differences.

Commercial compromise

Crocodile Garments has agreed to change its logo as part of the settlement. The new logo will have a croc with a tail which rises more or less vertically and it has skin which is much more scaly. It also has bigger eyes.

"They have litigated each other to a standstill and come to a commercial compromise," explains Nigel Francis of law firm Herbert Smith

That compromise allows Crocodile Garments to compete legally against Lacoste in China.

As well as competing against Lacoste, Crocodile has another battle on the mainland. It will soon register its brand with Chinese authorities and ask officials to protect it against the growing piracy of the Crocodile brand.

"I think it's a very good thing to do to fight the counterfeits," says Crocodile's Vanessa Lam.

While these two crocodiles now appear happy to be swimming in the same water zoologists are still scratching their heads at the logos.

They question whether real-life crocs lift their tails like the one created by Crocodile Garments.

But does it really matter?

Many people think Lacoste's age-old croc has a red tongue. When in fact, as Bernard Lacoste says, "Crocodiles don't have tongues."

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