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 entry, 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 Trade Snark, 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...
All joking aside, the Walt Disney company now owns or at least claims the rights to a whole raft of characters from classic literature, Indiana Jones, TRON, The Muppets, Zorro, Star Wars, Pixar's entire film library (though that, at least, is justified since the founder of Pixar was originally a Disney worker, who created his own company when the computer animation revolution began) and every single character published by Marvel Comics. And that's not even beginning to mention their own prodigious stable of original characters and franchises.
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. Arne kept that look for a few pages, but then he bought and put on a toy duck beak. That way, whenever Disney's lawyers complained, Christensen could point out that Arne wasn't really a duck, the toy beak just made him look like one.
Disney tried the same routine on Howard the Duck — and succeeded, giving Disney the right to redesign Howard until they no longer considered him infringing. Their design was so horrible that Marvel stopped using the character; much later, when a new Howard the Duck comic appeared on the Marvel MAX imprint, Howard was turned into a giant rat to avoid the problem entirely. And now that Disney actually owns Howard...
Disney's Oz movie, Oz: The Great and Powerful ran into this, because Warner Bros. owns the rights to the 1939 The Wizard of Oz film, which Disney's film was most trying to emulate (the Oz books are in the Public Domain). Disney and Warner Bros. held constant meetings through the development of the film, just to make sure that the sets weren't too similar or that the Wicked Witch's skin color was only a slightly different shade of green.
Universal ran into this with Snow White & the Huntsman, based on the fairy tale, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." At a Comic Con panel with the director, he stated that they got into trouble with Disney over it, and so their movie has to have eight dwarfs. 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.
Sometimes, it doesn't pay for even the gringos at Disney to live by this trope; the Hispanic community was furious (to say the least) when they tried to trademark Día de los Muertos for an in-development Pixar project.
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.
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. Understandable, since Filmation came clean that their Pinocchio was indeed intended as an unofficial sequel to the Disney version, not the original literary work.
In the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden, Disney attempted to trademark "Seal Team 6" in the hopes of making an NCIS-style television show based on the team for ABC. They ended up withdrawing their trademark request a short while later, and nothing ever came of the show itself.
Disney ran into this themselves when trying to release 'The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl''. Turns out a WCW\TNA talent had already trademarked "Sharkboy". Eventually some kind of settlement was reached because the movie still came out. Good luck finding any Sharkboy wrestling videos on a Google search.
DC and Marvel have had a joint trademark registration in the US for the term "Super Hero" and its variant spellings since 1979.
For several decades, iconic evil organization SPECTRE, along with the organization's equally iconic leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, could not 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. However, in 2013, MGM and the McClory estate reached a settlement, with Danjaq (the parent company of EON) and MGM buying full rights to SPECTRE and Blofeld.
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.
For the duration of the injunction prohibiting The Asylum from releasing Clash of the Empires under its original title, Age of the Hobbits, no one except for Warner Bros./New Line, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and The Saul Zaentz Company is allowed to even think about putting the word "Hobbit" in a movie's title.
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).
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.
This copyright applies only to the lyrics, and only in the USA. In the United Kingdom, for instance, there's no such restriction. The lyrics and music of the original tune, "Good Morning to All", are out of copyright.
Nursery rhymes can apparently be copyrighted—Larrikin Music sued Men at Work for using pieces of "Kookaburra" in "Down Under." Kraft Foods, on the other hand, has never made a fuss over the song despite direct mention of Vegemite in the lyrics.
Since Sony Music Entertainment got into bed with YouTube, music videos which were formerly freely available outside the USA are now completely blocked to British viewers. A black screen comes up to tell you, SME has blocked this video on copyright grounds and it is not available in your country, adding an utterly insincere Sorry about that. SME's comments page on YouTube is henceforth almost completely choked with comments about this, with varying degrees of civility and various suggested pre- and post-mortem destinations for SME company execs.
Wizards of the Coast has a trademark on the term "tap" for the act of turning a card sideways to signify it's used.
Sega also owns a patent on using an on-screen arrow to tell the player which direction to go. Apparently they think they invented the road sign in 1999. → Look at us, we're violating a patent! ←
In 2009 and 2011, Sega was awarded two more patents on the use of tap and drag-and-drop controls on a touchscreen to move characters around; i.e., using a touchscreen as a touchscreen! That's right, Sega owns drag-and-drop. Which they seem to think they invented in their famous game, Windows 3. They even filed a Frivolous Lawsuit against Level-5 in 2012 for 900 million yen (US$11 million) claiming that Inazuma Eleven infringes these patents, despite the fact that Inazuma Eleven was released in 2008. Suffice it to say, Level-5's rebuttal was quite possibly the most epic pwning ever to happen via corporate public statement.
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.
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 also owns the D-Pad in the form of a cross-shaped button. This is the reason why all of SEGA's and Microsoft's systems have circular D-pads and the PlayStations have four buttons arranged in a cross in their place.
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 thatnote which, for the meantime, lasts until 2015. despite the concept coming from old tape loader games on the C64.
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 Mojang founder Notch is 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 retroactively), 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 U.S. Government... and by law thusly a public domain character usable by anyone for any purpose, is owned wholly and completely by DC Comics, and will generic your character if you use the character's image in the game.
Actually, part of why they did that was because Roxor Games was selling "upgrade kits" for Dance Dance Revolution machines, which was considered unfair competition.
In 2006, the Canadian Red Cross issued a press release asking video game makers to stop using the red cross in their games; it is an especially common sight to see first aid kits and other items which restore the player character's health marked with a red cross.
The concern being that the Red Cross is a protected symbol per The Laws and Customs of War, and that inappropriate use could dilute the protective value of the symbol in various dangerous places.
The ESRB holds a trademark on all their rating icons, in order to ensure that publishers can't misrepresent the content of their games without submitting them to the rating board. Didn't stop some from trying; the developers of Wartune found this out the hard way when they tried to use the AO ("Adults Only") rating in their Internet ads as part of a Sex Sells campaign.
As of January 21, 2014, the developers of Candy Crush Saga hold exclusive rights to the word "candy" in app titles.
Force feedback (the "rumbling") in controllers is owned by a company called Immersion. Sony had a scuffle with them in 2006 which was why the initial PlayStation 3 controllers didn't have the feature.
In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Big McIntosh was originally "Big Apple" and Apple Bloom was originally "Appleseed", but both were changed at the request of Hasbro's legal department for this reason. Lauren Faust also insisted on using the spelling "McIntosh" instead of "Macintosh" for this same reason; see the Apple example below. Funnily enough, Big McIntosh in-series nickname of "Big Mac" isn't all that lawyer-friendly either.
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 United States 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.
Technology companies in particular are rife with "patent trolls" who own seemingly obvious/general patents and threaten legal action against smaller companies. When they think they have enough balls to do so, they go after bigger ones (and more often than not win). Notable cases where the trolls were defeated (or at least had little success if any):
There have been jokes for years about Apple owning lowercase "i" and Microsoft owning the letter "e".
The Canadian government has the camouflage pattern used by the Canadian Forces, called CADPAT (CAnadian Disruptive PATtern), under copyright. This still didn't stop the U.S. Marine Corps from copying and slightly altering it for their own use almost immediately after it was introduced, though.
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. The Beatles wouldn't appear on iTunes until the settlement nine years later, in which Apple Corps sold their trademarks to Apple, who re-licensed the marks back to Apple Corps.
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.
Given the context, it sounds like he was suing for slander/libel more than anything else.
When they introduced the Mighty Mouse, Apple Computer 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.
For that matter, the first Mighty Mouse cartoon has an ordinary mouse locked in a supermarket, bathing in super soap and eating super cheese, to become . . . Super .. no, the hastily renamed Mighty Mouse!
In 2004, Apple applied for a patent for an interface that would search across multiple databases. This was when Google just searched the Web. Apple's interface would search the Internet and, let's say, your personal address book at the same time. The patent application didn't detail the program design, just what it would do. After being denied nine times, they got it. Apple can now claim that any kind of search engine that searches across different databases is theirs and theirs alone.
Not to mention, as many have snarkily done, that the entire basis for many of Apple's iPad-related lawsuits seems to be the fact that the flat black rectangle of glass (literally the most minimal design possible) is patented to them.
Funnily enough, Apple DOESN'T have the rights to use the name "iPhone" in Brazil. The brazilian company Gradiente registered the name in 2000, when it planned to develop a cell phone with internet access ("internet phone"). Because Apple only wanted to register the name in 2007, the National Institute of Intellectual Property (INPI) decided that Gradiente would have the rights to use it since they asked first.
Amazon has one of these "concept" patents as well. The idea of One-Click is their property. Although not in the EU where it was deemed too obvious to patent.
They also filed a patent for photos on a white background, as made rather infamous by a segment of The Colbert Report. In practice, the patent will likely only apply to an extremely specific photography setup, making it essentially useless.
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."
This was also done by Mel Brooks in Silent Movie... and rather subtly in Tunnelvision (specifically, though the name "Engulf+Devour" is never spoken in this one, a movie being reviewed by Gene Scallion early on is said to be from 20th Century-Paramount, and as Paramount was owned by Gulf+Western at the time...)
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 Smiley World, Ltd.
If the head of the company ends up dead, we'll all know why.
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 Egyptian Government copyrighted its antiquities, including the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx.
These are 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. Most color trademarks are based on exact Pantone shades or dye/paint formulas, which makes them quite easy to specify.
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 United Kingdom.
In some countries, Cadbury owns the trademark for the color purple.
Cadbury have actually used this to force small chocolate businesses to change the color 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.
Christian Louboutin owns the trademark to shoes with a red outsole when the rest of the shoe isn't red.
It should be noted that colour trademarks are typically restricted only to competing organization. They do not restrict average people from using those colours in their artwork. So go ahead and paint your car "Barbie pink" with "Hot Wheels blue" polka-dots. Sure, it may garner you plenty of strange looks and chuckles - but it would not get you into any legal trouble.
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 Monster.com, because MCP owns a commercial trademark on the word "monster".
As noted under "Comic Books", Marvel Comics and DC Comics jointly own the trademark to the words "Super Hero" and "Super Heroes".
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.
UT also holds trademarks on their logo◊. This especially became a problem after a local business owner created a "Saw 'Em Off" image, which depicted the logo with the horns missing. Nearly ten years passed before UT really caught on (even though they had been wearing it to games). A new logo was introduced with just enough "fixes" to avoid lawsuits. (image)◊.
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 they backed down after a huge public backlash.* the fact that the phrase already refers to another annual football game, which predates not only the Super Bowl also the NFL itself, probably had something to do with said reaction.)
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."
"It would be super...to have a bowl...of Planters nuts while watching the big game!"
There's also the NFL's infamous "You can watch the game, but you can't talk about it" statement.
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.
Tim Tebow has trademarked "Tebowing".
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.
Sportswriters have referred to baseball's World Series as the "Fall Classic" for decades, but in recent years Major League Baseball has trademarked the phrase and now incorporates it into the official World Series logo each year,
Soon after passenger Todd Beamer of Flight 93 uttered the words "Let's roll" on his cellphone* Beamer helped rally the passengers to attack the hijackers, ultimately forcing the plane down in a field in Pennsylvania and probably averting the destruction of another major building, 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.
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 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. 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.
The publishing company holding the trademarks "Astérix" and "Obelix" went to court, forcing the open source project MobiliX to rename to TuxMobil.
This is somewhat common for some celebrities — athletes, musicians, NASCAR drivers, and porn stars, particularly. Note though, that trademarks only apply to certain uses of a name—just because Harlan Ellison is trademarked doesn't mean you can't name your child Harlan Ellison. It simply limits the use of the name in certain mediums (types of company titles, mostly).
Prince got into trouble with this, when the trademark for his name got assigned to his record label, forcing him to adopt a symbol as his official name.
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, 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; 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.
The BBC owns the trademark for the classic "police box", because under UK law you only have the rights to a trade mark if you've used it as a brand identity for products and services. Not only had the Metropolitan Police stopped using real police boxes by 1969, but they had never used it as a brand identifier in the required way.
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.—or even in Adobe's own Photoshop Elements. 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 trade marks, including Beatrix Potter® and Elvis Presley®. 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.
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. 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.
This makes sense, as neither the visual nor the sound of the Leo's roar are actually accurate depictions of a lion's roar.
NBC has trademarked its distinctive "dun DUN duhn..." three tone chime (listen here).
Similarly, Intel trademarked its "dun dun DUN duhn..." four tone chime (the one that accompanied the "Intel Inside" insignia, which was also trademarked.) (Listen here).
The Harlem Globetrotters have trademarked the song "Sweet Georgia Brown".
Actually, they only have a trademark on the 1949 recording by Brother Bones and His Shadows, which they have used as their theme song since about 1950 and trademarked in 1952.
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.
CBS Corporation (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, 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, the previous owners, had tried suing the Navy to keep them from selling items with the words "USS Enterprise" on them.
As of this writing the Aircraft carrier CVN-65 USS Enterprise has been retired and its replacement the CVN-80 USS Enterprise isn't scheduled for launch until 2025. Time will tell if CBS is foolish enough to raise any kind of stink over it.
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 first Droid smartphone released in 2009 by Motorola. Verizon has since released several other Droid models, presumably under the same agreement.
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". Of course, now Disney owns Lucasfilm...
In a German fanfiction community called Fanfiktion.de, the use of the world "Lichtbändiger" (translates to: Lightbender) was 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.
Nestlé all but committed corporate suicide on Facebook when someone not only thought it was a good idea to 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 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 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, 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. 
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.
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, having copyrighted and/or trademarked every aspect of Godzilla from his likeness to his roar. They will often sue groups for using the suffix -zilla, especially if it comes along with dinosaur imagery. This hasn't stopped various cartoons, video-games, and anime from using his roar for giant monsters without asking Toho's permission and getting away with it.
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.
A Spanish woman claimed ownership of the sun, and wanted to charge for all the people using it. As the article suggests, she seems to have forgotten the risk of being sued due to her property causing injuries and deaths via sunstroke and cancer...
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.
They didn't start trying to beat people up with their lawyers until said lawyers had to deal with the infamous Saul Zaentz, who owned the film, stage, and merchandise rights to Lord of the Rings (and who sued Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty for plagiarizing himself, and was essentially the largest the reason it took Peter Jackson almost a decade to finally be allowed to adapt The Hobbit after doing the Lot R movies).
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.
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 agreement with the World Wildlife Fund concerning the international use of the WWF acronym.
On the flip side: the company aggressively defends any trademarks it owns, including wrestler names — which explains why performers who leave WWE often have to use new names. (The Dudley Boys, for example, had to become "Team 3D" when the pair left WWE for TNA.)
Jay Reso, better known as "Christian" in WWE, beat the company on this one by trademarking "Christian Cage" to ensure that he could use his "WWE name" when he jumped ship to TNA.
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 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, in which the Supreme Court ruled that human genes cannot be patented.
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.
Arkham House Publishers claims to own the rights to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. Whether they actually do or not is a controversy in and of itself.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation trademarked "for the cure" and the color pink with respect to breast cancer awareness related products — not pink in general. But they have been known to sue small business and even other, but smaller, breast cancer charities that used the color pink or other general cancer charities that use the phrase "For the Cure", not knowing that Komen owns these trademarks.
The Red Cross, by international treaty, owns the rights to a red cross. Using it in your video game to show medical supplies or The Medic or in any other use is illegal. Prior to 1973, ambulances in the United States and elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere were typically marked with a safety orange cross, differing from the red cross only in its hue. Toys and paintings of ambulances commonly ignored even that nuance, instead using a red cross. After protests from the American Red Cross that the safety orange cross was insufficiently distinguishable from the protected Red Cross symbol, the U.S. Department of Transportation developed the Blue Star of Life as a replacement for the safety orange cross.
This one is slightly different, though. The Red Cross is not quite doing it to be jerks, but because the treaty that the symbol is protected under is the Geneva and Hague Conventions on the conduct of war, and the reason it is protected is that it denotes critical infrastructure and personnel who are protected because they are connected with the treatment of casualties — i.e. the presence of a Red Cross on a legitimately protected person, vehicle or site makes it a war crime to fire upon or otherwise attack that person, vehicle or site, and conversely, falsely wearing or displaying a red cross as camouflage is itself a war crime. The fear is that overuse and misuse of the symbol could dilute the intended meaning of the symbol to a point where troops may not see it as protected anymore in a time of war.
On August 9, 2007, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) filed suit against the American Red Cross alleging trademark infringement. J&J released a statement to the public on August 8, 2007 detailing its decision to file suit, claiming prior rights to the emblem. After the court rejected the substance of Johnson & Johnson's complaint, the parties ultimately settled their differences, and the American Red Cross remains free to use its emblem in the sale of life-saving, disaster preparedness, and other mission-related products.
Legend of the Five Rings originally had a logo of five rings interlocking to form a circle. Then the Olympics Committee informed L5R's makers AEG that they had a trademark on ALL logos featuring five interlocking rings in any configuration - by an act of Congress, no less. This forced AEG to redesign the card backs with a new logo (five non-intersecting coins), with all the problems one would expect from changing the card backs on a Collectible Card Game. AEG attempted to mitigate the damage by giving out large numbers of opaque-backed card sleeves at conventions, and the first expansion to feature the new card backs included a full set of sleeves in every starter deck at a loss.
The Firesign Theatre's album 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."
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 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 told him give it back.
A similar event took place in the pages of 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 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!"
Deadpool's symbol is very clearly created to mockingly look like a marketing logo— which it technically is.
In Bee Movie, the bees sue rock star Gordon Sumner over his use of the name "Sting".
Spider-Man: While shouting out orders in his office J Jonah Jameson invents the name "Green Goblin" and tells his staff to trademark it. "I want a quarter anytime anybody says it!"
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".
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.
This is Truth in Television, as many commercial agriculture companies make sterile seeds that produce infertile produce to keep farmers buying new seed each year and then sell the seed in the developing world.
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.
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’.
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* meaning facts from the world 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.
Francis of PvP attempts to trademark a black pixel and white pixel similar to Jason's example above.
In "Out with the Old Characters", Dr. Whooves says he changed his name to Time Turner to comply with copyright.
Apple Bloom: Oh, kind of like Timmy Turner, from that other cartoon! Time Turner: Oh dammit!
In "Copywrong", the characters comment on the use of a Suspiciously Similar Song in the soundtrack, and conclude that it's to avoid running afoul of copyright. Then Pinkie mentions Nazguls, and the video suddenly stops as the creator gets beaten by the Copyright Police.
In Futurama, Momcorp apparently holds the trademarks on"apple pie," "screen door" and "love".
In another episode, the only product names that aren't trademarked are Popplers and Zitzels.
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.
In the Back Story for the film WALL•E, the Buy n Large Corporation has trademarked North. You know... the direction? Its part of their "Directional Marketing" program.