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Beach warfare over who owns the word 'lifeguard'

A lifeguard watches over Coogee beach.

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: A lifesaving group in Australia has trademarked the word "lifeguard." All-volunteer Surf Lifesaving Australia says it wants any profits from the word go to genuine lifesaving activities.

But as Stuart Cohen reports from Sydney, the move has set up a showdown with the country's paid lifeguards.


STUART COHEN: At Sydney's popular Bondi Beach, the word lifeguard is practically everywhere -- from t-shirts and swimsuits sold in shops to the rescue equipment on the beach. The country's largest lifesaving organization wants a cut of that action, trademarking not only "lifeguard," but several other phrases, like "surf patrol" and "beach patrol."

But John Andrews of the Australian Professional Lifeguard Association, says the move will end up hurting them.

JOHN ANDREWS: We've already had one sponsor who's unable to continue with us because of being frightened about using the word "lifeguard" on some of the apparel that's being marketed by them.

In Australia, lifeguarding is big business. Corporate sponsors spend lots of money to have their logos plastered across everything from rescue helicopters to lifeguard uniforms.

Copyright law professor Michael Fraser says the trademark would be unlikely to survive a challenge.

MICHAEL FRASER: If terms like that can be trademarked, words that are used on every beach in Australia, well then i might try to trademark the work "help" and charge people a license fee when they call out from the water.

City councils that employ professional lifeguards are reportedly already consulting their attorneys.

In Sydney, I'm Stuart Cohen for Marketplace.

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