Lacoste’s crocodile is not merely a logo on a polo shirt.

This story first appeared in the February 9, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Once used to describe a player’s style on the tennis court, it has transcended into a global brand and a focal point for philanthropic endeavors.

It is also a precious piece of intellectual property, which Lacoste guards with the tenacity of the reptile itself. Lacoste dedicates an entire team to the global protection of its trademarks, and works with police and customs authorities in dismantling international counterfeit activity in many countries.

“Brazil, China and India are the top three countries where we are facing the most serious counterfeit issues. Two million fake Lacoste products were seized in India in 2011,” said Rajesh Jain, director and chief executive officer of Lacoste India. Lacoste has joined L’Oréal and Calvin Klein in this fight.

RELATED STORY: Multimedia Player: Lacoste Harnesses Print and Digital >>

While the brand name, logo and products are under a watchful eye, Lacoste took crocodile protection to the next level with its Save Your Logo campaign, actively supporting projects to protect certain species of crocodiles, alligators, caimans and gavials now in danger of extinction. The company is also a sponsor of the World Crocodile Conference, which takes place this year in Sri Lanka, May 20 to 23.

Charity is a significant part of René Lacoste’s legacy. The René Lacoste Foundation provides opportunities for young people around the world to find new paths through sport. This includes Andy Roddick’s Youth Tennis Program in the U.S., the Open Play soccer program in Brazil and the “A Chacun Son Everest” (“Each has his own Everest”) mountain-climbing program for young cancer patients. Ongoing global initiatives include building a gymnasium at a Russian orphanage and a skateboarding park for children in Afghanistan.

Lacoste has its famous crocodile striding confidently into more new territories, bringing another dimension to the brand by collaborating with other designers on various projects.

“The idea of inventing again brought us to look for the best experts in each category,” explained Christophe Pillet, design director. “In working on the Lacoste concept car, we chose Citroën because they have the materials, engineers and the latest technology. When we decided to make surfboards, we went to the best surf-equipment manufacturer in Europe. The goal was to raise the value of the brand by returning to the label’s innovative roots. We wanted to play with design ideas without thinking about market constraints.”

“In the Sixties, Steve McQueen and Jackie Kennedy were wearing Lacoste, not because a p.r. guy gave it to them, but because it was part of their lifestyle,” said Lacoste’s German ceo, Sanjiv Singh. “Today, you see Rihanna and Diane Kruger wearing Lacoste. The brand speaks to a very broad audience. Some love it for the heritage and some for the sportswear.”

Germany is Lacoste’s largest European market, with 650 accounts and about 1,000 doors.

“René Lacoste was an inventor, designer and an inspirational guy, and many of his ideas are still around,” Singh said. “Eighty years later, it is a $4 billion business [worldwide at retail] that has inspired many [people], and that, to me, is an incredible journey.”