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Trademark Registration Wars: Disney Retreats and US Navy Fights Back

Thursday May 26, 2011 at 12:16pm

Just two days after the Navy Seals team consigned Osama bin Laden to a watery grave, Disney’s lawyers sprang into action. In an attempt to cash in on the growing interest in counter-terrorism, Disney applied to the US Patent and Trademark Office for a trademark registration of the mark SEAL TEAM 6. The trademark application included entertainment and education services, clothing, footwear and headwear, toys, games and playthings, gymnastic and sporting articles, hand-held units for playing electronic games other than those adapted for use with an external display screen or monitor, Christmas stockings, Christmas tree ornaments and decorations and snow globes.

On May 13, the US Navy Department filed two applications to register a trademark for each of NAVY SEALS and SEAL TEAM. They cover all goods and services indicating membership in an organisation of the Department of the Navy that develops and executes military missions involving special operations strategy, doctrine and tactics, as well as posters and clothing. Commander Danny Hernandez, the chief Navy spokesman said, “We are fully committed to protecting our trademark rights”. Can the world be in any doubt about it?

Yesterday, in a flush of national embarrassment, Disney withdrew its application “out of deference to the Navy”, said Kevin Brockman, the Disney/ABC spokesman. This comes after Disney has been criticised by comics and critics for trying to profit from bin Laden’s death. There are those who believe that Disney’s intentions were misunderstood, as, they say, Disney’s ABC subsidiary intended to develop a TV show about the elite squad, along the lines of “NCIS” and “JAG” which are also real-life navy units and would have focused on the drama and heroism of the special forces unit. It is said that the other uses listed on the application did not necessarily reflect the company’s intention to create those products.

Had Disney not withdrawn its application, the decision as to which trademark registration, or whether both, should proceed would have come down to whether the USTPO felt that granting trademarks to both US Navy and Disney would cause consumer confusion. If so, the natural conclusion would be to give priority to the entity that filed its application first, namely Disney.

It is a pity that the Navy Seal’s reputation for pre-emptive strike is apparently not shared by their trademark advisers but, it is generally thought to be a good thing that honour has been seen to prevail and it has not come down to a pitch battle before the USTPO which Disney would probably have won.


Disney was not the only one looking to secure lucrative revenues from the sale of products carrying the Seal Team’s name. In 2002 and again in 2004, NovaLogic Inc., the developer and global publisher of computer games, applied to trademark “Seal Team 6” for “Computer and video game software, computer programs recorded on CS-Rom’s and compact discs featuring computer games, accessories for playing electronic computer games, namely templates, computer game joysticks and manuals therefore, sold as a unit”. Its second attempt was for “games and playthings, namely action figures and accessories therefore”.

Both applications have been now been abandoned.

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