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When you wish upon a star....

Trademarks are distinctive signs or symbols used by a person or company to promote and differentiate their products and services from the competitors. They typically consist of a name, word, phrase, logo, or combination of the four, and are distinctly associated with their brand. See the article on the subject for an in-depth explanation.

Trademarks belong to a category called "intellectual property rights", alongside similar concepts called copyrights and patents. A full discussion of their definitions and purpose is beyond the scope of this wiki, but the three terms all bear a common theme: They acknowledge creation or ownership of something, and provide the owner with some control over how it gets used. If somebody else attempts to use it commercially without the owner's permission (often with an exchange of money involved for such permission), the owner can take them to court and sue for damages.

Now, in Real Life there are certain rules and limitations on what does and does not constitute an infringement, and what is and is not eligible for protection under intellectual property rights laws in the first place. But there are no such limitations in fiction! Some corporations (for example, Mega Corp) are so damn powerful and wield so much influence that they can put a stamp of ownership on literally anything. The grass in your front yard? Patented by a gardening company. The morning sunrise? Copyrighted. The name of your favorite pet? A bright sunny day? The word "the"? Yes, them too. If it exists, then somebody, somewhere, has stamped a copyright or trademark upon it, regardless of common sense or reason, and they'll happily send out their army of lawyers to collect royalties at even the slightest hint of infringement.

Related to Tradesnark, where big companies not only have trademarks on common words, but insist on using the TM at all times to remind people of it.

Some of these examples will seem pretty out there, but as Robert Ripley always said...

Examples of Disney Owns This Trope include:

Newspaper Comics

  • A Close to Home strip made fun out of this: a man and his wife are watching the sunset on a beach, only the sun has mouse ears. Caption: "For crying out loud, is there anything they don't own?"
  • In one FoxTrot cartoon, Jason tried to copyright 1 and 0 so that any song released on the Internet would be pirating his work.
    • "3Com only purchased rights to the numbers '3' '5' and '9', Intel owns '4', '8', '6', and '2'. '0' and '1' are still in the public domain." — Donald Becker
      • What about '7'?
      • Nobody likes seven.
      • I told him that eating nine would have repercussions...
  • The Norwegian comic strip Fakta fra Verden[1] claimed it was now legal for companies to trademark common words. So Microsoft, Pepsi and other big corporations trademark all the "good" words, like Great, Excellent and Fantastic. It then goes into detail about how smaller companies must make do with less nice words, or words that make no sense compared to what they're selling. However, there are still plenty of negative words that have not been copyrighted yet.

Comic Books

  • The Silver Age comic book supervillain, The Prankster, once copyrighted all of the letters in the alphabet and tried to extract royalties from anyone who used them while writing.
  • Also in the DCU, Lexcorp owns a little bit of just about everything. In fact, one of their sneakier schemes against the Man of Steel was an attempt to trademark the word "Superman" that would have legally forced Superman to pay them a royalty every time he appeared in public.
    • This also became a minor plot point in the Death Of Superman storyline - Luthor attempted to buy Superboy using Matrix Supergirl as "bait". He almost fell for it before he was wooed in by Rex Leech. When a server attempted to stop Steel and the Eradicator from using the shield, the Eradicator tried to flash fry him, forcing Steel to pull him out. When the same guy approached the returned Superman, Supes did things a lot more simpler - he confronted the clone and pretty much told him give it back.
  • A similar event took place in Ultimate Spider-Man. The Kingpin bought the rights to the Spider-Man docudrama that was produced earlier in the comics and all related merchandise. Since he is a crime lord, it proves to be a win win for him. If Spider-Man fights his goons, he makes money. If Spider-Man hangs up the tights, no one will fight his goons, and he will make money.
    • If Spidey quit the Kingpin was going to hire an actor to take his place.
  • In her column You'll All Be Sorry, Gail Simone parodied the legal dispute between Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane with an article about McFarlane copyrighting Gaiman's name and likeness.
  • In the Batman story "The Laughing Fish", the Joker dumped a version of his toxin into the local waters, and then tried to claim ownership of all the fish that now sported Joker faces. When the patent office explains that patent law doesn't work like this, he responds with attempted murder.
  • A Mad Magazine treatment of Peanuts at the height of its cultural success has Charlie Brown as a megalomaniac executive moving to sue Planter's for using their name on its product, raving "I don't care WHO came first!"
  • The Swedish comic character Arne Anka (Arne Duck), a cartoon duck with a fondness for drinking, sex, classic literature and rants about politics, wasn't popular with the lawyers of Disney, who decided to sue his creator Charlie Christensen. At first, Christensen fruitlessly tried to use logical reasoning, saying "surely Disney don't hold the right to all cartoon ducks?" but then solved the problem by changing the look of Arne, particularly the beak, and then drawing a comic page in which Arne buys and puts on a toy duck beak, so that whenever Disney's lawyers complained, Christensen could point out that Arne wasn't really a duck, he just looked like one because of the toy beak.
  • Deadpool's symbol is very clearly created to mockingly look like a marketing logo-- which it technically is.


  • Will Ferguson's Happiness™ is about a self-help book that actually works, turning people into happy zombies and making the publishing company so much money that they trademark the word "happiness".
  • Disney has attempted to copyright characters such as Alice and Peter Pan in New Zealand. It doesn't help that the rights are in various states of public domain and still in copyright in different parts of the world.
  • Harry Potter®, and the infamous fiasco regarding merchandising rights owners Warner Bros.' heavy-handed actions against fan sites in December 2000 (which, according to Harry: A History, was a mistake on WB's lawyers' part).
  • The sci-fi short story Tying Knots by Ken Liu. An American researcher goes to an isolated village and learns their method of encoding stories in knots to develop methods of manipulating proteins. He pays them in genetically-engineered rice which can grow in the now-reduced rainfall, but the seeds are sterile (forcing the villages to buy more rice each year) so the villages can't steal the intellectual property from those who invented it. This however does not apply to the 'old knowledge' the researcher has taken from the villagers.

Live-Action TV

  • In the Doctor Who episode "Dalek", it was revealed that billionaire Henry van Statten "owned the Internet".
  • In Psychoville the man in charge of the production of Snow White says that they are forbidden to use the names in the Disney film for the dwarves. This is actually correct — Disney originated those names and character designs for the dwarves, so it owns them.
  • Since ABC is owned by Disney, the people working on Once Upon a Time are allowed to use trademarked names of Disney characters as the names of their own version of the same characters.
  • In the special Eretz Nehederet episode dedicated to the massive summer 2011 protests in Israel, a tycoon impression (Eran Zarkhovich with an Angry Birds-esque pig for a head) was featured. Host Eyal Kitsis went over a list of his assets, which included, among many others, the phrase ‘Holy shit, get a load of those tits!’ and the word ‘morning’.
  • In Hannah Montana, Rico has somehow obtained the exclusive North American rights for both his Evil Laugh and his "Hey-oh!" Catch Phrase.


  • Iconic evil organization SPECTRE, along with the organization's equally iconic leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, can no longer be used as villains in the James Bond films due to a successful series of lawsuits filed against EON Productions by Kevin McClory over the rights to Thunderball and plot elements introduced in the story. In the movie For Your Eyes Only, Blofeld (and SPECTRE by association), here an unnamed bald guy with a cat, is rather summarily bumped off for good before the opening credits, likely a Take That to the property owner.
  • In Bee Movie, the bees sue rock star Gordon Sumner over his use of the name "Sting".
  • The phrase "No Animals Were Harmed®", as seen in movie credits, is a registered trademark of the American Humane Association, which monitors animal use on film and television productions. This is so that unscrupulous filmmakers can't put that stamp of approval in their credits without the Humane Society's actual involvement, whether by outright lying or by creating some kind of shill organization to rubber-stamp anything they do.


  • Warner/Chappell Music owns the lyrics of "Happy Birthday To You", and technically any time you perform it in public you owe them money. Hence, restaurants avoid singing it, instead inventing their own ditties.
    • Also note that this copyright applies only to the lyrics, and only in the USA - here in the UK, for instance, there's no such restriction. The lyrics and music of the original tune, "Good Morning to All", are out of copyright.

Radio Theater

  • Firesign Theater's Give Me Immortality... Or Give Me Death! has repeated promos from "U.S. Plus": "We own the idea... of America." Toward the end of the play they're announcing "We own the idea... of the idea of America."

Video Games

  • For the Virtual Console re-release of StarTropics, the word "yo-yo" was changed to "star" because "yo-yo" is a trademarked name in Canada.
    • Also done in the VC re-release for Zoda's Revenge. "Tetrads" were changed to "blocks", and "Tetris" was changed to "Puzzle".
  • The Tetris Company has not only trademarked the name "Tetris", but they have also trademarked the Tetromino shapes and the theme song, and Henk Rogers will send cease-and-desist letters to anyone who dares to so much as make a game with falling tetrominoes. TTC has gone so far as to claim infringement on elements of the game which cannot be copyrighted (as ruled by the US Supreme Court in Lotus v. Borland).
    • The song is actually a Russian folk song that is firmly in the public domain with respect to copyright, but because it has built up a secondary meaning, it's a trademark within video games.
    • Note that, on top of Lotus v. Borland, Lego already tried to copyright\"trademark" a patent leading to the Supreme Court decision "Trademark law should not be used to perpetuate monopoly rights enjoyed under now-expired patents." With enough money to cover the legal costs, a large company making a profitable Tetris clone would theoretically be able to easily defeat The Tetris Company in court (except for the music). It's just that without the Tetris name, it's hard to make a lot of money selling a Tetris-like game, so no one has bothered.
  • Nintendo owns the Sanity Meter. They patented it when they made Eternal Darkness (actually, what they patented was when it goes down).
  • The reason Rare video games like Banjo-Kazooie, Golden Eye 1997, Perfect Dark, Jet Force Gemini and Conker's Bad Fur Day won't be released on Virtual Console is because in 2002 Microsoft bought Rare, transferring the rights to all Rare made games that weren't based on Nintendo's properties to Microsoft.
  • Next time you're waiting on a Loading Screen and wondering why there isn't a Mini Game to play while you wait, thank Namco; they have a patent on that[2].
  • Minecraft creator Mojang AB tried to trademark the word "scrolls" for the use as a game title (and on various t-shirts and other merchandise). Since he's far from the first (let alone only) person to have the word "scrolls" in the name of something and doing so would allow him to play this trope painfully straight (and retroactivally), some of those people wanted to put a stop to it (and indeed have to thanks to the way in which not acting on it would be more or less giving up their own). Bethesda (creaters of The Elder Scrolls series) got there first (although this hasn't stopped some people turning it around and claiming that Bethesda were suing Mojang merely for using this name, thus accusing them of playing the trope straight in another way entirely).
  • According to NC Soft, creator of City of Heroes, Uncle Sam, a character created in 1826 by the US Government... and by law thusly a public domain character useable by anyone for any purpose, is owned wholely and completely by DC Comics, and will generic your character if you use the character's image in the game.
  • Konami has trademarked the four-arrow control pad ofDance Dance Revolution, resulting in rival In the Groove being sued out of existence.
  • Since their buyout of Psygnosis in the mid-1990's, Sony has owned the Lemmings franchise, meaning the games will never appear on Virtual Console, iOS (there was an iPhone port attempted, but Sony shot it down), or Xbox Live Arcade, only on the Playstation Network.


  • Francis of Pv P attempts to trademark a black pixel and white pixel similar to Jason's example above.
  • In God(tm), the intellectual property of God and all related characters are owned by a certain animation, media, and theme park corporation.
  • In Ozy and Millie, fire is the intellectual property of dragons, who reap a side benefit of their ownership being extended whenever Disney extends its copyright on Mickey Mouse.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • In Futurama, Momcorp apparently holds the trademarks on "screen door" and "love".
  • In The Simpsons, Disney owns the song notes A-flat and G natural.
    • The Blue-Haired Lawyer character shows up a lot whenever someone violates a copyright
      • The school fair used the tagline "The Happiest Place on Earth", which is copyrighted by Disney.

 Skinner: But it's just a small school fair.

BHL: And it's heading for a very big lawsuit. You made a big mistake here.

Skinner: Well, so did you: You made an ex-Green Beret mad.

(proceeds to punch the lawyer in the throat and demolish his goons)

Skinner: Copyright ... expired.

      • Grandpa is imitating Charlie Chaplin's fork-and-potato dance to impress his girlfriend.

 BHL: Mr. Simpson, I represent the estate of Charles Chaplin. I have here a court document ordering an immediate halt to this unauthorised impersonation. Boys!

(goons throw away the forks and stomp on the potatoes)

      • And again after Grandpa stands under a streetlamp, saying "Goodnight, Mrs Bouvier. Wherever you are."

 BHL: Mr. Simpson, I represent the estate of Jimmy Durrante. I have here a court document ordering an immediate halt to this unauthorised impersonation. Boys!

(goons take his hat and stomp on it)

Grandpa: Well, would it be alright if I laid down in the street and died?!

BHL: (shuffles through some papers) Yes, that would be acceptable.

    • This trope is the basis of the episode where the original creator of Itchy successfully sues the animation company for copyright infringement. The studio gets its money back when they sue the Post Office for using the character of Mr. Zip, which they claimed was a rip-off of one of their founder's stick-figure mailman character.
  • Disney tried to stop release of a 1986 Filmation animated film, Pinocchio and the Emperor Of the Night as well as television broadcast of Fox's Peter Pan and the Pirates, claiming Pinocchio and Peter Pan as intellectual properties.

Real Life

  • Perhaps the best aversion of this trope is any cleaning product by the Swiss company Rösch, which includes such awesome examples as "Linux" detergent, "Micro&Soft" softener, and "Mac Oxi" stain remover. None of them violate a single trademark law, because they're used for cleaning products, not for computer software. Whether they would run into problems in the US is open to debate; one question that is considered very strongly in trademark infringement cases is "dilution", namely whether the product alleged to be infringing can reasonably be considered to be using it in a way which would lead to confusion between the two different companies or products. Cleaning products and computers are probably different enough to be help to be non-infringing.
  • There have been jokes for years about Apple owning lowercase "i" and Microsoft owning the letter "e".
    • Microsoft does own the Internet Explorer logo, which is essentially a stylized letter "e". However, they don't own "e" itself, only that particular design.
  • Indeed, Apple seems to run into this trope a lot:
    • When the Macintosh came out in 1984, the ads and manuals had a credit to McIntosh (the people that make amplifiers and such) in them; Apple was later able to claim "Macintosh" as a trademark in itself.
    • Apple Corps/Apple Records and Apple had a bit of an argument over their name, but since music and computers were distinct markets both continued to use the trademark Apple. But when Apple Computer started selling iPod music players and distributing music through their iTunes store, Apple Records took them to court for stepping on their trademark. And now you know why The Beatles aren't on iTunes.
      • At least were. Still, it took 9 years for both companies to agree on something.
        • Year number nine, number nine, number nine...
    • Carl Sagan once sued Apple Computers for using his name as an internal codename for one of their products. Specifically, one of the first Power Macs, whose codenames were based on famous hoaxes; the other models were known as "Piltdown Man" and "Cold Fusion". In response, they changed the codename to "BHA". Sagan sued them again when he found out this stood for "Butt-Head Astronomer". The final name, LAW - which stands for "Lawyers Are Wimps" - finally escaped without any litigation.
    • When they introduced the Mighty Mouse, they went to the trouble of licensing the name from CBS even though the device doesn't use the character's likeness at all. Whether or not it would have been legal otherwise is debatable (it'd be hard to confuse a computer mouse for a cartoon mouse), but Apple apparently wanted to play it safe. Unfortunately, a different company had a trademark on Mighty Mouse for computer mice. That company sued Apple and CBS in 2008.
  • Gulf+Western, one-time owner of Paramount Pictures, was once parodied on Saturday Night Live as the "Engulf+Devour" corporation, because "We own everything... and if we don't own it, we will."
  • A company called SmileyWorld Ltd. owns the copyright and trademark on yellow smiley faces. This caused problems in the Watchmen fan community when Smileyworld refused to let Warner Bros. release memorabilia involving the series' famous bloodstained smiley logo. Smileyworld's copyright can been seen on at the end of the movie's trailers and on its posters.
    • BTW, SmileyWorld would like to remind you:

  "Warning! Some people make the mistake of referring generically to icons as "smileys" or "smilies". This is an incorrect use of our "SMILEY®" trademark. Please make sure that you refer to "SMILEY®" only as a trademark for the icons (or other products and services) of SmileyWorld, Ltd.

    • If the head of the company ends up dead, we'll all know why.
  • The Religious Technology Center is an organization established by the Church of Scientology in 1982 to establish and enforce the trademarks and copyrights pertaining to Scientology. Trademarks of the RTC include "Cause", "Celebrity", "Source", and "Super Power". Scientology's use of international trademark and copyright law has been a main source of criticism levied against the organization.
  • The Egyptian Government copyrighted its antiquities, including the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx.
    • Hmm. Since copyright seems to hold (in Egypt) till 50 years after author's death I am quite sure it have expired by now.
    • These are of course special copyrights, designed to be perpetual, and held by the Egyptian state. The idea is to allow Egypt to profit from its history and give it a claim on stolen artifacts. Many other countries with substantial archaeological treasures, such as China, have similar laws.
  • UPS actually trademarked the specific shade of brown they use for their trucks and uniforms. It's worth noting that most color trademarks are based on exact Pantone shades or dye/paint formulas, which makes them quite easy to specify.
    • Mattel owns "Barbie Pink" and "Hot Wheels Blue".
    • The British Royal Mail has trademarked the shade of red they use in their logos.
      • Royal Mail also owns the trademark on the phrase "Special Delivery" in the UK.
    • In at least Australia, Cadbury owns the trademark for the colour purple.
      • They do here in the UK as well.
      • Cadbury have actually used this to force small chocolate businesses to change the colour of their purple boxes and suchlike by suing them.
    • In Finland, a metal company Fiskars owns a shade of orange, commonly used for the handles on their scissors.
    • Owens-Corning owns the trademark on the color pink, but only as it applies to fiberglass insulation.
    • The John Deere company once tried to trademark the distinctive green shade of its tractors, but their application was denied. Mainly because farmers would have lots of green things and they would like all of their equipment to "match" - seriously!
    • Tiffany Blue is trademarked.
    • T-Mobile has not only trademarked the color magenta with reference to mobile phones, it even sued Engadget's mobile phone blog for having a magenta-colored logo.
    • Kraft's Sanka brand owns the color "Sanka Orange" with respect to decaffeinated coffee.
  • The American Tort Reform Association has trademarked the phrase "judicial hellholes". They probably did it so no one else could trademark it and sue them for using the term.
  • Monster Cable Products, Inc. has initiated trademark infringement lawsuits against Monster Garage, Monster Energy Drink, Pixar (producers of Monsters, Inc.), the Chicago Bears football team (the "Monsters of the Midway"), Fenway Park for its "Green Monster"), and, because they own a commercial trademark on the word "monster".
  • Ads for Motorola's Droid cell phone note that the word "Droid" is used under license from Lucasfilm.
  • Marvel Comics and DC Comics jointly own the trademark to the words "Super Hero" and "Super Heroes".
  • Similarly the mark "Swiss Army Knife" is owned jointly by Victorinox and Wenger.
  • Paris Hilton tried to trademark her catchphrase "That's hot". It was rejected.
  • Former basketball coach Pat Riley owns the trademark on the word "threepeat", having filed the paperwork when the Los Angeles Lakers had a chance to pull one off. The Lakers didn't get there. Ironically the Chicago Bulls won their first threepeat after beating the Riley-coached New York Knicks in the Conference Finals.
  • After the Bulls' first three, a group of investors trademarked "Quad Squad" at great expense; for them, neither hilarity nor wealth ensued.
    • Likewise, the New England Patriots attempting to trademark "19-0" prior to Super Bowl XLII, something that the rest of the sporting world refuses to let them live down. In fairness, the preemptive copyrighting was probably necessary, as less than a year earlier, the Colorado Rockies coined the term "Rocktober" and then had to pay a lot to buy the mark from some entrepreneur who jumped on it immediately.
  • Texas A&M has trademarked the phrase "The 12th Man" referring to the home fans at football games. The Seattle Seahawks have a portion of their website dedicated to their "12th MAN", including the "12th MAN Ball", a game ball dedicated to the fans after a crucial win over the New York Giants. The Seahawks clearly state that they use the term under license from Texas A&M.
  • The NFL, claiming to own a trademark of the New Orleans Saints catchphrase "Who Dat?", sent cease-and-desist orders to New Orleans-area shirt vendors selling unofficial "Who Dat?" shirts shortly after the Saints entered the Super Bowl. This led to Louisiana senator David Vitter penning a letter to the NFL saying "Who Dat Say You Can't Print Who Dat?" The league also tried, without success, to claim trademark rights to the fleur-de-lis, which the Saints have on their helmets.
    • Speaking of the Super Bowl, the NFL has a trademark on the name of that event, forbidding advertisers and media outlets from using it without explicit permission and forcing them to resort to generic-sounding terms such as "The Big Game". (The league, apparently determined to prove its greed and lust for power knows no limits, has also attempted to trademark the phrase "The Big Game", though without success.)
      • Which led to a number of amusing commercials from companies mocking them for it.

 "Enjoy our fine salsa product while watching football in your bowl which is super."

    • There's also the NFL's infamous "You can watch the game, but you can't talk about it" statement.
    • Well it makes sense; you have sponsors sinking millions to advertise in the game, why should others get to profit from the game without even supporting it.

 "This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or of any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL’s consent is prohibited."

    • Somewhat conversely, the original logo of the Jacksonville Jaguars had to be changed because it was too similar to the logo for Jaguar Cars Ltd.
  • Chicago area broadcaster Bob Sirott trademarked "OJ TV" during OJ Simpson's first major trial. He trademarked it because he didn't want anyone to use it.
    • Though, in reality, if you don't use a trademark, you lose ownership of it.
  • Soon after passenger Todd Beamer of Flight 93 uttered the words "Let's roll" on his cellphone, his wife tried to trademark the phrase, and actually attempted to sue Neil Young for his use of the phrase in a song about the 9-11 attacks. Her petition for trademark was denied. Newark entrepreneur Iman Abdallah had filed first, planning to put it on t-shirts and coffee cups to raise money for the families. Eventually the Todd M. Beamer Foundation was granted a limited trademark for use on audio recordings.
  • In the aftermath of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, Disney is attempting to trademark "Seal Team 6".
  • Oleg Teterin, president of the Russian mobile ad company Superfone, has trademarked this: :) and this ;) and because of the similarity doctrine used in trademark law, all other smiley emoticons created by using punctuation marks. He says he won't go after private individuals who use emoticons in email and such, but will hunt down and sue companies who do. The actual chances of him holding on to the trademark are very, very slim.
  • Leo Stoller, a self-styled "intellectual property entrepreneur", trademarked such words and phrases as Stealth, Sentra, Dark Star, Air Frame, Stradivarius, Havoc, Chestnut, Trillium, White Line Fever, Fire Power, Love Your Body, Terminator, and many, many more. Once he trademarked a word or phrase, he immediately launched million-dollar lawsuits against people and companies who were casually using those words. His lawsuits have pretty much consistently been laughed out of court.
  • This has brought up much concern for the lawyers of Hasbro, in particular due to their Transformers line having tons of characters with descriptive and generic names. For instance, the character Jazz, who is an Autobot, is now always sold as "Autobot Jazz", because while there are plenty of other places the word "Jazz" could be trademarked, there's virtually no other place where the phrase "Autobot Jazz" could be shoehorned in. Other characters' names had to be changed because someone else had already trademarked them; this is why Hot Rod is now referred to as "Rodimus" — yes, someone managed to trademark "hot rod".
    • In an amusing bit of Irony, Hasbro lost the ability to use "Bumblebee" during Beast Wars, because they didn't produce a Bumblebee during the series where everyone turned into animals. Of course, a bumblebee named Bumblebee would have made even "Cheetor" and "Rhinox" look like clever names, and a heroic insect character wouldn't have fit with their theming anyway (we got the evil Waspinator instead).
    • Also, Hasbro has to describe Transformers as toys which convert, because calling them toys that transform would risk "Transformers" becoming a generic term.
    • Hasbro also threatened to sue humorist Randy Cassingham to stop his sales of "Get Out of Hell Free" cards, claiming they violated intellectual property of the game Monopoly. Details can be found here.
    • Hasbro also lost the trademark to most of the G1 My Little Pony characters' names due to lack of usage.
  • Though they have no trademark on it, Cirque Du Soleil unsuccessfully sued Neil Goldberg's Cirque Productions for using the word cirque (French for "circus") in their name and the titles of its Cirque Dreams series of Follow the Leader shows.
  • Walmart tried to trademark their smiley face, but failed due to it being too generic. They have since changed their logo to an asterisk-like starburst they call "the Spark".
  • The publishing company holding the trademarks "Asterix" and "Obelix" went to court, forcing the open source project MobiliX to rename to TuxMobil.
  • Harlan Ellison® has trademarked his own name.
    • This is somewhat common for some celebrities — athletes, musicians, NASCAR drivers, and porn stars, particularly.
  • Sometimes, this is somewhat of a Necessary Evil due to things like these.
    • So it's evil for them to own a word, but it's necessary because otherwise other people would use it?
    • Looks like someone's idea of an exaggerated prank.
  • In 2003, Spike Lee was granted a temporary restraining order which prevented "The New TNN" from renaming themselves "Spike TV". You know how it got over with the mainstream press, which joked that Lee might as well sue the following: Spike Jonze, Spike Jones, Spike from Tom and Jerry, Peanuts, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc.
  • Nadya Suleman, famous for being the mother of octuplets, has recently applied for the trademark "Octomom". She hates the name, and wants to own it so no one else can use it.
  • Kiss has not only trademarked their name, logo, and facial makeup designs, but bassist Gene Simmons has trademarked his name, his signature, and the image of a sack of money with a dollar sign on it. He also gets royalties from Geffen Records from the sales of the album Bandwagonesque by the Scottish alternative band Teenage Fanclub because that album uses the image as well.
  • In 1978, Digital Equipment Corporation came out with the VAX line of mini-computers. In the UK, there was a line of vacuum cleaners named VAX. No problem so far, as the two trademarks didn't clash for reasons explained in the intro. But DEC's competitors had a great deal of fun borrowing the advertising slogans from the vacuum cleaner company, such as "Nothing sucks like a VAX".
  • "Charles Darwin" is a trademark when applied to roses, according to a sign in the Bronx Botanical Garden.
  • Kellogg's successfully sued Exxon/Esso for their use of a tiger mascot, claiming it infringed on Tony the Tiger. Though Exxon could still use the mascot, there are strict limits on how it uses it; basically all it can do is smile and wave.
    • The issue was "tiger" brand food products sold in Exxon's convenience stores.
  • Kohler, the manufacturer of plumbing products and fixtures has trademarked the names of the colors that their products are stained, and are very picky about their use.
  • Fox News claimed the phrase "Fair and Balanced" and sued now-US Senator Al Franken for using the phrase in connection with his book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair And Balanced Look At The Right. In response, Franken joked that he had trademarked the word "funny", and that Fox had infringed his intellectual property rights by characterizing him as "unfunny". The judge deemed Fox's lawsuit "wholly without merit" and Fox thereupon withdrew it before the judge could rule on whether it was even a valid trademark.
  • Two words: Tim Langdell. A founder of a video game company that hasn't actually produced a single game in over 20 years, the man supposedly owns the trademark of a word "Edge", and has claimed trademarks on majority of things that just happen to have "Edge" in a title, with the most recent incident involving Fuzzyeyes's upcoming title Edge Of Twilight. To make the hypocrisy even more jarring, not only does the current official logo of his "company" greatly resembles the one of Edge Magazine, but its official website even has a blurb of "Mirrors". He is a reason why Soul Edge is the only named such game in its series.
  • The BBC owns the trademark for the classic "police box", because the various Metropolitan Police forces forgot to. One might forgive them, as this was a non-issue before 1963.
    • Given that the Metropolitan Police abandoned using police boxes by 1969, trying to get that trademark may have proven difficult if they had tried.
  • While Adobe's trademarks are quite normal, the guidelines for using them, particularly the "Proper use of the Photoshop trademark" section, are quite ridiculous.
    • A large part of it is that most "Photoshopping" is actually done using (the cheaper) Paint Shop Pro. The best way to piss off Adobe's lawyers is to say you photoshopped something in Paint.NET, Paint Shop Pro, etc. Similarly, saying that you Googled something on Yahoo is "Bad. Very, very bad".
    • More likely it's an attempt to prevent their trademarks from being genericized. In fact, it's necessary for the trademark holder to show they're taking such steps, as if a trademark becomes generic enough without any effort to prevent it, that company may no longer be able to keep that trademark.
    • Car-Freshner Corporation ran a full-page ad in a Photoshop magazine about how the "Little Tree" is their logo, even if you recolor it or decorate it in any way.
  • Many real names are registered trademarks, including Beatrix Potter® and Elvis Presley®. Basically, dead celebrities whose names get licensed a lot.
    • Elvis Presley Enterprises not only has his name trademarked, but they also hold a trademark over his likeness. In other words, even if you don't have the clearances to use Elvis' music catalog in your work, you would still have to clear the use of Elvis or a look-alike as a distinct character. Same situation with Marilyn Monroe.
    • This may also be why in the 3DS port of Star Fox 64, the line "Hey, Einstein, I'm on your side!" had "Einstein" changed to "genius", since Albert Einstein's name is trademarked. Though this still doesn't explain why the line is left intact in the Virtual Console port. Another possibility is they realized that there probably isn't a well-known genius with the name of Einstein in the Lylat Galaxy.
  • In 2008, three jailed members of the domestic terrorist/secessionist group the Montana Freemen tried to charge the US government millions of dollars for using their names, which they claimed they had copyrighted. The government, in response, added 15 years each to their sentences for conspiring to impede the duties of federal prison officers and extortion.
  • There is piano sheet music for "Rhapsody In Blue" by George Gershwin®. Seriously.
  • Harley-Davidson attempted to trademark the sound of their motorcycles revving: "The mark consists of the exhaust sound of applicant's motorcycles, produced by V-twin, common crankpin motorcycle engines when the goods are in use." Nine other motorcycle manufacturers opposed the trademark because they use the same type of crankpin V-twin engines (even Harley-Davidson called it "common") and thus made the same sound. The courts, recognizing Harley-Davidson's application for a trademark as being what it was (an end-run attempt to put its competition out of business) denied the application.
    • However there was at one point a trademark on the sound of a Harley-Davidson engine. The application was not based on the design of the motorcycle engine, but the noise as stock sound effect. The holder of the trademark asks for very little in royalties compared to most trademark holders and it seems to only apply in Australia and New Zealand territories.
    • Not all engines (particularly with smaller layouts like the two cylinders in a motorcycle) have perfectly even timing between power strokes. Of course with two cylinders using four-stroke cycles, there should be a power stroke every 360 degrees of crankshaft rotation (720 deg. per cycle divided by 2 cylinders equals 360 degrees). However, Harley's distinctive sound comes from the fact that one cylinder fires, then the second one fires only 270 degrees later, leaving 450 degrees until the first one fires again. So, they are attempting to trademark a mechanical design that they use and no one else does, particularly a design that provides a very distinctive sound. Furthermore, the 'common' above ("common crankpin") is not implying that it's a 'common,' as in "oft-used," design, but a type of design wherein both connecting rods overlap, sharing a 'common' crankpin by using a fork-and-blade design.
  • Metro Goldwyn Mayer naturally trademarked the image of their mascot, Leo the Lion, roaring. But they also trademarked the sound of his roar.
  • NBC has trademarked its distinctive "dun DUN duhn..." three tone chime (listen here).
    • That's not too surprising, given that the chime has a hidden meaning — it's the notes "G, "E" and "C", which are the initials of NBC's parent company, General Electric Corp.
  • Similarly, Intel trademarked its "dun dun DUN duhn..." four tone chime (the one that accompanied the "Intel Inside" insignia, which of course was also trademarked.) (Listen here).
  • The Harlem Globetrotters have trademarked the song "Sweet Georgia Brown".
  • The "deep note" used to notify you that the THX did the sound for the movie you are watching has been trademarked.
  • So has the "glissando followed by the words A T and T" been registered as a sound mark.
  • Toblerone trademarked the triangular wedge shape as it applies to chocolate bars.
  • The Columbia Journalism Review and other journalism journals often run ads from major companies (particularly Coca-Cola, Xerox and Johnson and Johnson) imploring reporters and writers to shy away from the use of brand names as generic terms.
  • Paramount Pictures (Star Trek) has a registered trademark on the words, "USS Enterprise". Never mind the first USS Enterprise was an armed sloop of the U.S. Continental Navy in 1775 and numerous U.S. Navy ships since. Considering Star Trek stole the name off the Navy in the first place, that is chutzpa.
    • Chutzpa, hell, that's borderline arrogant. The current incarnation of the Big E isn't even due for decommissioning until 2013! One wonders if the Navy brass have gotten wind of this.
      • Paramount has tried suing the Navy to keep them from selling items with the words "USS Enterprise" on them.
  • Despair, Inc., publishers of the Demotivator posters, trademarked the "frowny", :-(, and issued a mock press release promising to litigate all those who infringed upon it, even in private emails.
  • A barely-known fact — the word "tremolo" for many years was a trademark of the Fender company. Others used the term "vibrato arm" instead.
  • Lucasfilm owns the rights to the word "Droid." Verizon Wireless had to get permission to use it as the name of the Droid Smart Phone released in 2009 by Motorola.
    • Related to this, Carrie Fisher stated that Lucas owned the likenesses of the Star Wars characters, prompting her to joke that "every time [she] looks in the mirror [she] owes George a couple bucks".
  • In a German fanfiction community called, the use of the world "Lichtbändiger" (translates to: Lightbender) was recently forbidden, due to an company producing sunglasses under that name threatening to sue the website. Cue unleashing of the fury of a lot of Avatar fanfic writers, who had to change their stories.
  • In 2010, Nestlé all but committed corporate suicide on Facebook] when someone not only thought it was a good idea to not only delete the comments of anyone using an altered version of their logo for a profile pic, but act like a bratty teenage girl getting into an argument in the comments section of a YouTube video. Terrible business practice or a convincing practical joke? Either way, they're a laughing stock.
  • Then there is the infamous Universal Studios v. Nintendo lawsuit, where Universal claimed the Nintendo's Donkey Kong was a violation of their ownership of King Kong. After several months of Universal refusing to officially seek legal proceedings, instead simply trying to get Nintendo to agree to a settlement without litigation, a certain lawyer working for Nintendo discovered that Universal did not own the trademark rights to King Kong, but that they had simultaneously argued that he was a a Public Domain Artifact so they could make some cheesy B movies of him in the '70s and that they owned all rights pertaining to him. The court case officially declared that the character Donkey Kong could not be confused with King Kong, and that while Universal Studios owned the majority of rights, with the remainder being divided between creator Richard Cooper, RKO Studios, and the Dino De Laurentiis company, they did not hold exclusive rights to the name and character as they had claimed. Nintendo then proceeded to successfully sue Universal into the ground. Oh and Nintendo went on to thank the lawyer that found it out by first hiring him as their main consul in America, then later naming a certain character after him.
    • While firmly planting Nintendo in the "Don't F*** With Us" category in the U.S., this case did have one unfortunate downside for gamers: Universal still wanted a game company to make licensed games for their films. And after failing to get Nintendo, Universal bought LJN.
  • In 1975, NBC unveiled its new logo, a stylized letter "N" formed from two trapezoids, for which it had spent $750,000 to hire a graphics firm to design, print all-new stationery, etc. As it turned out, the network Did Not Do the Research; not long afterward, they learned that Nebraska Educational Television was already using an almost identical logo (which had cost them only $100 to create). In order to be able to keep the new logo, NBC settled with Nebraska Educational Television by providing them with equipment and cash worth over $850,000.
    • NBC would eventually combine the N with their second 11-feathered peacock design. [1]
    • Saturday Night Live, an American staple on NBC, made fun of the redesign when it was happening by showcasing on the Weekend Update segment fictional rejected logo concepts, each of which was a more angular, extreme, avant-garde combination of flat red and blue shapes. NBC reintegrated the peacock to the logo a mere three years later, and while not exactly like the first colour-flaunting 1956 peacock, it's highly evocative thereof.
  • Apple may be mentioned further up, but seriously, listen to this: The shape of an iPod is a registered trademark. Unless you are Apple, you are not allowed to use... a rectangle with rounded edges.
  • German comedian Hubertus Albers has trademarked his alter ego's name Atze Schröder. In an inversion, he actually sends cease-and-desist letters to people who use his real name (but oddly enough not the very trademark agency which shows it to everyone who asks).
  • Just as silly is another German comedian, Mario Barth. He trademarked one of his slogans ("Nichts reimt sich auf Uschi" - "Nothing rhymes [the name] Uschi", a play on the easily found rhyme "Muschi" - "pussy"). So far so good, but unbeknownst to him the very same slogan had been used 20 years ago (albeit not trademarked) and printed on shirts by other comedians. He tried to sue people sporting those old shirts for copyright infringement.
  • The distinctively-contoured Coke bottle is trademarked to the Coca-Cola Company. They spent a lot of time designing a bottle that would be both instantly recognizable as a Coca-Cola container, nor mistakable as anything but a Coca-Cola bottle. Notice that even the plastic two-liter bottles of Coca-Cola (and other Coke Company products) resemble the famous contour bottle, while every other brand's two-liter bottles look alike, particularly plain, straight edges.
  • Toho's lawyers are about as vicious and terrifying as the Kaiju they created. They will often sue groups for using the suffix -zilla, especially if it comes along with dinosaur imagery.
    • Mozilla, most famed for the Mozilla Firefox web browser, treads carefully around them, but has so far escaped their wrath by being a non-profit foundation.
  • In 2011, a Spanish woman claimed ownership of the sun, and wanted to charge for all the people using it. She seems to have forgotten the risk of being sued due to her property causing injuries and deaths via sunstroke and cancer...
  • "D'oh!" is trademarked by 20th Century Fox.
  • Games Workshop owns copyright for the term "Space Marines" and various other things relating to Warhammer and Warhammer 40000.
    • They also claim ownership of a large amount of terms ranging from the specific (Tzeetch and Cadian, for example) to the more everyday (Epic and Inferno). They also claim the Double Headed Eagle motif, despite the fact that was in use by various nations nearly a millennium ago.
    • Perhaps the oddest thing about all this is that they were encouraging certain sites beforehand.
  • Wonderfully inverted by Eurovision Song Contest winner Dima Bilan (Born as Dmitry), who changed his legal name so he matched his artistic name to avoid claims of ownership of the second by his late producer's family.
  • World Wrestling Entertainment has fallen afoul of trademarks twice:
    • For a short while, it looked like the company couldn't use the wrestler Gangrel in its game properties, because Gangrel was a registered trademark of White Wolf (as a Vampire: The Masquerade clan name). They were able to iron that particular problem out and get Gangrel into games.
    • The more famous one was having to change its company name to World Wrestling Entertainment (and its logo to WW) due to a violation of an old European statute that limited their use of WWF in Europe due to the World Wildlife Fund's hold on the trademark in Europe.
  • When Malcolm X came out Warner Bros. was dismayed to learn that they couldn't trademark the letter "X", so a lot of merchandise was produced without anyone having to pay them royalties.
  • There is a possibly apocryphal story that Mick Jagger tried to use copyright law to prevent any other musicians from using stage names related to cutting implements (a "jagger" is a type of knife). This was prompted by David Jones' success under the name David Bowie (a "bowie" is another type of knife).
  • The company owning the copyright for The Three Stooges managed to essentially trademark a pronunciation, Curly's "Soitenly!"
  • The director of Snow White and the Huntsman, a Darker and Edgier film based on the fairy tale "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," mentioned at a Comic Con panel that they got into trouble with Disney over it, and so their movie had to have eight dwarfs. That's right, Disney was able to restrain the details on a centuries-old fairy tale. Had Disney fully gotten their way, they'd have the rights to control everything "Snow White" in any medium except for literature.
    • Since dozens of adaptations since 1937 have had seven dwarfs, clearly Disney hasn't been upholding any trademarks, and you need to defend it for it to stand. More likely, the director was joking.
  • Nintendo trademarked the phrase "It's on like Donkey Kong!" for use in ads for Donkey Kong Country Returns.
  • The Hebrew University in Jerusalem once tried mobile phone company Pelephone for using the name Einstein (as a synonym for ‘genius’, as it owns the copyright to his name) on an ad for their mobile internet service saying, ‘Suddenly everyone’s an Einstein.’
  • Gene patents. Sure, you can claim that once separated from a body so that they can be looked at, they aren't really part of the human body or whatever...but it's STILL HUMAN (or whatever) GENETIC MATERIAL. This not only tends to impede research for disease treatment, but also can be more than a bit scary when you realize that parts of your genome are actually owned by various entities...
    • This is probably changing in the USA, due to the Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. supreme court decision in March 2012, and Assn. for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, not yet fully decided.
  • Likewise, there are software patents, which often patent well known algorithms. In one case, the source code of Doom3 had to be changed because it was later discovered that someone had independently come up with their graphics algorithm and patented it.
  • Victoria Beckham (AKA Posh Spice) once tried to sue English football club Peterborough United, because they were selling scarves, mugs and other items marked 'The Posh'. The lawsuit was dropped after it was pointed out to her that the club (or its predecessors) has been using that nickname since 1921.
  • Partway through the "Occupy Wall Street" protests of 2011, a law-minded couple attempted to copyright the name "Occupy [city]" and related phrases. Their explanation for this was that they weren't doing it out of corporate greed, but rather so that "One Percenter" corporations couldn't do that themselves and hawk shirts and pre-made signs, thus undermining the point of the protests.
  • Plenty of online stores have been menaced by a man claiming to own a copyright on the yellow "Caution!" sign. No, really.
  1. meaning facts from the world
  2. which, for the meantime, lasts until 2015.