Have you ever heard of the Plimsoll Line? If you aren't part of the world of shipping, you might be more familiar with the name "Plimsoll" used for a type of shoe (more on that later…)
The Plimsoll Line refers to the small circular image that appears on the hulls of ships around the world. The image — a painted circle bisected with a long horizontal line — is a marking that's designed to show whether a ship is overloaded. When the horizontal line is visible, the ship isn't at risk of sinking. If the line is not visible, well, there might be a problem.
The Plimsoll Line was devised by Samuel Plimsoll, an English politician and social reformer, who fought for merchant shipping regulation. Plimsoll's namesake load-marking image became mandatory on British ships when the United Kingdom Merchant Shipping Act of 1876 took effect. The Plimsoll Line later became standard worldwide.
Some of you might be more familiar with the name "Plimsoll" being used for a specific type of shoe, particularly in the UK. The shoes were actually named for their similarity to the Plimsoll line, according to Wikipedia. Originally a "sand shoe," developed in the 1830s, the shoes became commonly known as Plimsolls during the 1870s because the band adjoining the upper part of the shoe to its sole looked like the Plimsoll line on a ship. The theory was that if water got above the top of the rubber sole, the wearer would get wet feet.
According to Ars Technica, a North Carolina couple "inspired by Plimsoll's story" and operating a company called Plimsoll Gear filed a trademark application for "Plimsoll Gear" with the USPTO in 2008. The trademark was registered in 2009 in a variety of classes covering metal license plates, magnets, paper goods, beverage ware, clothing, and headgear.
A US-based maritime-news website, gCaptain, began selling T-shirts bearing the Plimsoll Line in 2017, which its owner said "was to honor the memory of Plimsoll, the man who fought to put this on ships, and now it's on every single ship." Last month, gCaptain received an email and then a cease-and-desist letter from Plimsoll Gear's attorney demanding that it stop selling Plimsoll-branded merchandise, claiming a likelihood of confusion. Here's an excerpt of the letter's content:
“While the version of the Plimsoll symbol which you are using is not identical to the one shown in our client’s registration, the designs are similar enough that a purchaser could confuse one version for the other or assume that one company sells products that display the two variations. The end result in either case is purchaser confusion as to the source of the goods.”
Ten days following the cease-and-desist letter, gCaptain stopped selling its Plimsoll t-shirts.