Is Christmas next?

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"Disney files to trademark Mexican holiday, Dia de Los Muertos", Stitchkingdom 5/6/2013; "Disney files to trademark 'Dia de Los Muertos' for movie-themed products", 89.3 KPCC 5/7/2013.

Applications were filed to cover:

  • Goods and Services IC 041. US 100 101 107. G & S: Education and entertainment services
  • Goods and Services IC 030. US 046. G & S: Confectionery and chewing gum; breakfast cereals and preparations made from cereals; cereal bars; bread; muffins; muffin bars; pastry; waffles; pancakes; cookies; crackers; biscuits; popcorn; corn chips; pretzels; puddings; coffee; tea; cocoa; sugar; rice; flour; ices; ice; honey; condiments; sauces; spices; pizza; pasta and noodles; macaroni and cheese; frozen meals consisting primarily of pasta or rice; staple foods
  • Goods and Services IC 003. US 001 004 006 050 051 052. G & S: Cosmetics; dentifrices; non-medicated toiletries; fragrances; perfumes
  • Goods and Services IC 009. US 021 023 026 036 038. G & S: Apparatus for recording, transmission or reproduction of sound or images; audio books; audio recordings; audio and visual recordings; video game software; computer programs and software; consumer electronics and accessories therefor; eyeglasses and sunglasses and accessories therefor; binoculars; decorative magnets; graduated rulers
  • Goods and Services IC 014. US 002 027 028 050. G & S: Clocks; jewelry; jewelry boxes; jewelry cases; key rings of precious metal; coins; watches; watch bands
  • Goods and Services IC 016. US 002 005 022 023 029 037 038 050. G & S: Paper and paper articles; cardboard and cardboard articles; printed matter; publications; books; photographs; portraits; paintings; stationery; office and school supplies
  • Goods and Services IC 018. US 001 002 003 022 041. G & S: Bags; backpacks; calling card cases; coin purses; fanny packs; key cases; key chains; luggage; luggage tags; purses; umbrellas; wallets
  • Goods and Services IC 025. US 022 039. G & S: Clothing, footwear and headwear
  • Goods and Services IC 028. US 022 023 038 050. G & S: Toys, games and playthings; gymnastic and sporting articles (except clothing); hand-held units for playing electronic games for use with or without an external display screen or monitor; Christmas stockings; Christmas tree ornaments and decorations; snow globes
  • Goods and Services IC 029. US 046. G & S: Fruit preserves; fruit-based snack foods; eggs; jams; jellies; potato chips; nuts; dairy products; meat; poultry; fruits; vegetables; prepared or packaged meals consisting primarily of meat, fish, poultry or vegetables
  • I guess all these products are out of luck…

    Update — Apparently there were some complaints, and Disney decided that it might not try to own this holiday after all.

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    13 Comments »

    1. Robert said,

      May 8, 2013 @ 7:00 am

      Surely this should be filed under wtf.
      Reminds me a little of trademarking a colour, although that at least was for a limited range of products.
      http://m.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/oct/02/cadbury-purple-legal-victory-trademark

      (the update link appears to just point back to the Language Log homepage btw)

    2. Michael Rios said,

      May 8, 2013 @ 9:12 am

      Trademarking colors for a particular product has been done for decades, if not over a century. Two of the most famous are IBM blue (leading to IBM itself sometimes being called "Big Blue") and Owens-Corning Fiberglas insulation "PINK", which is a distinctive pink color. It helps that neither product is one in which color inherently matters; trying to trademark a color of paint, for instance, would probably fail.

    3. Steve said,

      May 8, 2013 @ 10:32 am

      Interestingly enough, not that long ago, Starbucks made some attempts at aggressively enforcing its trademark for "Christmas Blend", coffee, even going so far as to attempt to force a monastery to stop selling its "Christmas Blend" coffee. A public outcry ensued, and Starbucks ultimately decided to NOT pursue its trademark enforcement actions, but in its press release it said it decided to do this because it was confident that the public so strongly associated "Christmas Blend" with Starbucks that it wasn't "necessary" to enforce the trademark.

      Of course, there's a difference between trademarking (and enforceing a trademark) for "Christmas Blend" coffee, and attempting to trademark "Christmas" itself, but, given the generic nature of the word "blend" – particularly as applied to a coffee product – it's not THAT big of a difference, I think.

    4. J.W. Brewer said,

      May 8, 2013 @ 11:09 am

      It is interesting that Disney claims they're actually going to change the name of the movie, presumably to something more easily protectible. (It was and I assume still is a maxim of American copyright law that you can't copyright titles-as-such, no matter how original the choice of words, but I have the impression that in recent decades it has become increasingly common to use trademark law as a workaround.) I nonetheless assume that "Christmas" could be used as a trademark for a sufficiently narrow category of goods/services where the use was sufficiently arbitrary that it would not be not intuitively obvious that competitors needed to make use of the word. So, e.g., back in the '80's there was a rock band named Christmas, now sadly so faded into obscurity they don't even have their own wikipedia page (but see http://www.thepopview.com/wordpress/2010/11/15/a-salute-to-christmas-the-band/). If they'd been willing to spend money on lawyers, I would think they would have had a decent shot in their (comparative) heyday at shutting down a hypothetical rival band seeking to record and tour under the identical name, but no chance of precluding other recording artists putting out albums under names like "Jon Bon Jovi Sings Your Christmas Favorites."

    5. dlw said,

      May 8, 2013 @ 3:34 pm

      "Jesus" has already been trademarked as a clothing brand:

      http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324432004578302060560501092.html

      "If somebody—small church or even a big church—wants to use 'Jesus' for printing a few T-shirts, we don't care," said Domenico Sindico, the general counsel for intellectual property at BasicNet SpA, a publicly traded company based in Turin, Italy, that owns Jesus Jeans and the Kappa sportswear brand.

      But when companies like Mr. Anton's seek to commercialize their products, "that's a concern," he said.

    6. maidhc said,

      May 8, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

      You can't trademark a title, but you might do better with a title combined with a distinctive logo. There was a movie called Halloween. Imagine if the producers of that film had decided to bring out their own line of themed candy, breakfast cereal, potato chips and spicy meat snacks. A trademark is supposed to be a distinctive indicator of a product. A commonly used word like the name of a holiday isn't distinctive. Using a distinctive color, font, etc. can create a distinctive logo, which is something frequently done with film titles, but it doesn't interfere with ordinary use of the word.

      The Halloween movies were adapted as a video game, but this could be protected under copyright as a derivative work. It wasn't very successful anyway.

    7. Chris C. said,

      May 8, 2013 @ 7:04 pm

      @Steve — I've known the monks involved in the Starbucks case for a very long time, and as their coffee sales are their main source of income this was very stressful for them. (It's Christ the All-merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island in Puget Sound, affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.) I don't know about "not long ago"; it's been about 15 years if I calculate correctly.

      The mistake Starbucks made in this case was that the abbot, being a veteran of various 1960s-era social movements around Berkeley, knew exactly how to create a grass-roots campaign. Starbucks never had a chance. Whether they should have been able to trademark "Christmas Blend" became moot; public pressure forced them to stop protecting it.

      @maidhc — You can indeed trademark a title. What you cannot do with a title is copyright it.

    8. Steve said,

      May 8, 2013 @ 10:20 pm

      @Chris C.: Well, I said it was "not that long ago." For a given value of "that", my statement is correct. (Although I admit that I thought of this as being a more recent occurrence than it actually is.)

    9. Victoria Simmons said,

      May 9, 2013 @ 4:34 am

      Remember after Osama was killed, when Disney tried to trademark "Seal Team 6"?

    10. Dennis Paul Himes said,

      May 9, 2013 @ 9:04 am

      Did Columbia Pictures trademark Groundhog Day?

    11. Faldone said,

      May 9, 2013 @ 10:07 am

      NB: If you're just entering your teens, 15 years ago is before the beginning of time. If you're an old geezer, like me, 15 years ago is statistically indistinguishable from yesterday.

    12. Chris C. said,

      May 9, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

      I have to date such things by where I was living at the time and how old my kids were. In this case I remembered where I was sitting when I read the email from the abbot about the Starbucks threat. This was a relatively early use of the Internet for activism, something that has now become routine via social media.

      15 years is approximately a zillion in Internet time.

    13. Sili said,

      May 20, 2013 @ 6:58 pm

      Disney has been an inherent part of Danish Christmas for decades, so I say "go for it".

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