US Company Claims Ownership Of Plimsoll Mark

Plimsoll Mak - International Load Line
Plimsoll International Load Line mark on a ship. Photo by J. Quendag, Shutterstock

In 2017 alone, over ten billion tons of cargo was carried by the world’s fleet of over 50,000 registered ships. Each of those ships is unique – they fly the flag of over 100 different countries, hail from over a 1,000 and employee crew from every nation on earth. No two ships are identical except that, painted at the waterline of each of these ships, is the same simple mark, the International Load Line. Today gCaptain received notice from an American company to Cease and Desist use of this mark. 

The International Load Line is more commonly called a Plimsoll Mark in deference to Samuel Plimsoll, a British MP who took up the load line cause in the 1860s. Plimsoll lobbied for a Royal Commission on the seaworthiness ships in 1872, and in 1876 the United Kingdom Merchant Shipping Act made the load line mark compulsory on all British commercial vessels. In 1906, laws were passed requiring foreign ships visiting British ports to be marked with a load line and in 1930 the Load Line Convention mandated its use internationally. 

Since 1872 the Plimsoll Mark has become so ubiquitous that this simple mark has inspired books, movie studios, and even popular athletic shoes. It is featured on numerous memorials to lost sailors and is etched in stone to mark Samuel Plimsoll’s grave

In 2009, despite over a century of use by countless parties, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued a trademark for the exclusive use of this mark on items ranging from “magnets, namely, decorative magnets and refrigerator magnets” to “plastic license plates”, to William C. Leewenburg, a Marine Cargo Surveyor in Morehead City, North Carolina

In a cease and desist letter sent to gCaptain this morning E. Eric Mills, an attorney representing Leewenburg’s company states that Mr. Leewenburg’s company Plimsollgear.com “offers an assortment of products under trademark registrations worldwide, including the United States, Europe, Canada, and Australia” and asks that we remove the mark from the shirt, mug and poster gCaptain created to honor the work of Samuel Plimsoll. 

While Mills concedes that the version of the Plimsoll mark used by gCaptain is “not identical to the one shown in his client’s registration” he believes it is “similar enough that a purchaser could confuse one version for the other” and “is in violation of his client’s rights under federal and state trademark and unfair competition laws.”

Can a mark as historic and important as the Plimsoll Mark be trademarked? Was a mistake made by the US Patent and Trademark Office? Will shipping companies be asked to pay a fee or remove the mark from the sides of their ships? 

gCaptain has contacted a few shipping companies and has found out that Mr. Leewenburg has not yet asked them to remove the mark from the sides of their ships.

Note from gCaptain CEO John Konrad: gCaptain does not believe we have violated any law or trademark by offering our Samuel Plimsoll products. We shall consider removing the products if they do in fact break the law but we also firmly believe that mariners should be able to buy and wear with pride a mark that signifies safety and professionalism in our industry. In the spirit of this belief gCaptain will be donating $10 for each plimsoll shirt we sell to a charity organization for seafarers.

Any mariner who would prefer to purchase these items at cost rather than donate may use coupon code “plimsoll” at checkout for 25% off.   -JK