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"Like a true American, I love all things Disney. Mostly because all things are owned by Disney."

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 (we have a separate comprehensive article explaining how trademarks works, click here for details), 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. These laws are also what (ostensibly) protect independent artists, inventors, and writers from having their work stolen or destroyed by Evil, Inc., Executive Meddling, severely Misaimed Fandom, or having the Serial Numbers Filed Off.

But there are no such limitations or ethical quandaries 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.


It should be noted that not all copyright and trademark claims are valid; just look at the mess over "Happy Birthday to You!" as an example of a company attempting this and (eventually) failing. Often leads to getting Screwed by the Lawyers.

Related to Stuck on Band-Aid Brand, where a company not only holds the trademark but continually remind people of it. May overlap with Trade Snark, where words are labelled as trademarks for humorous purposes.

Don't confuse this for tropes that the Walt Disney Company owns at using, such as the Disney Death or Disney Acid Sequence. It's more general and metaphorical than that.


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Real Life Examples:

All joking aside, the Walt Disney Company has taken over a tremendous number of other media companies and properties, including Pixar, Blue Sky Studios, 20th Century Fox (film and television, a catalogue that goes back a century), most of National Geographic, Lucasfilm, almost the entire Marvel Universe, ABC, ESPN, FX Networks, most of Fox Kids (they're just missing the Power Rangers), The Muppets, and a whole bunch of other things we've probably forgotten. They're the single biggest media company in the world, with an obscene market share in various different segments of the entertainment industry. And they've got a legendary Army of Lawyers. So their perception as a little enthusiastic in asserting their copyrights is not exactly unfounded.
  • The Swedish comic character Arne Anka is a cartoon duck with a fondness for drinking, sex, classic literature, and political rants — pretty much the opposite of your typical Disney character. Disney's lawyers weren't amused and sued 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?" Apparently, they believed they did. Christensen ended up solving the problem by changing Arne's look completely so that he didn't look like a duck at all — a look that lasted for a few pages before Arne bought a toy duck beak that he would constantly wear. From then on, 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. That seemed to satisfy them.
  • Howard the Duck also caught Disney's ire for "unauthorised use of duck". But Howard was a Marvel Comics property rather than the creation of an obscure Swedish artist, so Disney fought harder. And they won. Indeed, they got the right to redesign Howard to something they considered no longer infringing. And they gave him a design so horrible that Marvel stopped using the character entirely. That lasted until the Marvel MAX imprint, when they brought him back as a giant rat (which is either a Take That! or a spectacular case of not thinking this through). Eventually, Disney bought Marvel outright and got Howard with them, so he's back to being a duck again.
  • Disney has a habit of adapting works and then trying to copyright the whole thing themselves. It's led to some odd results:
    • Universal's Snow White and the Huntsman drew Disney's ire for its resemblance to the 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However, The Brothers Grimm's version, first printed in 1812, is already in the Public Domain. This means that any story elements from the original were okay, as long as they didn't resemble the things Disney invented for their version. This may be why, when the director claimed at a ComicCon panel that his version has eight dwarfs because Disney insisted he couldn't have seven, it was called an unlikely prospect. (More likely, he was joking.)
    • They tried to copyright the character Peter Pan in the UK, having supplanted JM Barrie's original with their own animated feature. But they found that in the UK, a special bill had given the partial rights to the character in perpetuity to a children's hospital. The hospital doesn't have the right to forbid use of the character, but they do have the right to collect royalties from any work that uses the character in the UK. A win for art, a loss for vulgar capitalism. This is also how Disney failed to block Fox's animated adaptation of the books, Peter Pan & the Pirates.
    • They tried to copyright the title character of their film Alice in Wonderland, but Lewis Carroll's original work was already in the public domain. Indeed, they were still producing their version when they discovered another film based on Carroll's book — a mixture of live-action and Lou Bunin's Stop Motion puppetry, so visually nothing like Disney's version. They sued anyway. This led to a long legal battle during which Disney brazenly claimed to own the rights to the book; no one bought it, and the case was thrown out. But Disney did succeed in forcing Bunin's film into a limited release and relegating it to obscurity. And they periodically kept trying to copyright Alice in random countries like New Zealand.
    • They tried to copyright the title character of Tarzan, but were blocked in several places by the estate of his original creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.
    • They tried to copyright the title character of Pinocchio, but only managed to do their own version, with the rights to the literary character written by Carlo Collodi remaining in the public domain. This led to hilarity when Filmation released its 1986 animated film Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night — they sued for copyright infringement, but lost because the work is based on the original books.
    • They were fairly successful with respect to Cinderella, even though the original work is from 1697 (with versions older than that). The same year as the film's release, Estela Films in Spain were trying to release their own animated feature-length adaptation of it and ran into Disney's copyright-fu. They found that Disney had even trademarked the Spanish name of the story, La Cenicienta, forcing them to call it Erase una vez... (Spanish for "Once Upon a Time").
    • They were also fairly successful with Sleeping Beauty, even though it's a really old story and their version also includes some music from the ballet version by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Mattel's plan for a Barbie adaptation of the ballet was cancelled in part because Disney owns the trademark to "Princess Aurora", even though Mattel weren't even planning for the protagonist to have that name.
  • In the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden, Disney attempted to trademark "SEAL Team 6" — the name of the military unit who got him — in the hopes of making an NCIS-style show about them on ABC. They ended up withdrawing their request a short time later, and nothing ever came of the idea.
  • When deadmau5 filed a trademark on his signature icon, Disney tried to block it on the grounds that it resembled Mickey Mouse's head. Then they piled on the audacity by airing deadmau5's signature song on Re-Micks, without his permission. They ended up settling the case out-of-court.
  • In the early production stages of Coco, Disney tried to trademark the phrase "Dia de los Muertos". That's right, they tried to trademark an entire holiday because Pixar was making a movie about it. The Latino community was quite displeased, leading to Mexican-American cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz drawing a poster of a giant skeletal Mickey with the caption, "It's coming to trademark your cultura." A week later, Disney backed off and claimed they were just trying "to protect any potential title for our film and related activities." Then they hired Alcaraz to work on the film as a consultant.
  • Disney's cooperation with Square Enix in the Kingdom Hearts series leads to some interesting battles. Basically, Disney owns everything in the game, even original characters like the protagonist Sora; Square Enix only has the characters that appear in their other games like Final Fantasy and The World Ends with You. It culminated in Final Fantasy Record Keeper slapping a © Disney anywhere remotely related to Kingdom Hearts, making one almost think they were making fun of it. It was a minor miracle that Sora ever made it to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate without Disney resorting to buying Nintendo out.
  • Disney is suspected to be the reason why Nintendo doesn't seem to like Uniracers anymore. Shortly after the game's release, Pixar sued Nintendo claiming the game's protagonist bore too much resemblance to the protagonist of their short Red's Dream, and managed to win (in Disney-esque fashion) by convincing the court that Pixar owns all digital red unicycles. And this was before Disney bought Pixar. Since then, Nintendo chose not to rerelease it for the Virtual Console or the SNES Classic Edition, suggesting Disney is maintaining the grudge. (They were already sour with Nintendo over the poorly-received Super Mario Bros. movie.)
  • Disney prevented the film adaptation of Italian comic Dylan Dog from featuring a white Volkswagen Beetle like the comic did, because Disney owns the rights to the white Beetle. (They bought them to make The Love Bug.)
  • Disney's gotten hit with their own medicine a couple of times:
    • When they tried to make Oz the Great and Powerful, they relied on the underlying book series being in the Public Domain. But Disney took a lot of cues from the famous 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, which was owned by Warner Bros.. They had to have constant meetings with the Warner Bros. people to make sure their movie didn't look too much like the original film, haggling over details as the exact shade of green of the Wicked Witch's skin.
    • When trying to release The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, they discovered that WCW/TNA has the copyright to "Shark Boy". The wrestling people must have gotten a nice settlement, considering that the movie came out. (Perhaps as revenge, it's pretty much impossible to find Sharkboy wrestling videos on a Google search.)

    Comic Books 
  • Warner Bros. (parent company of DC) and Marvel Comics have had a joint trademark registration in the US for the term "Super Hero" and its variant spellings since 1979. That half-ownership acceeded to Disney when they bought Marvel in 2009.
  • Just try to make a comic book superhero with the name of Thor these days—the character is a copyright and trademark of Marvel Comics, even though Thor is a mythological character from thousands of years ago, and is therefore by law a Public Domain Character. The Asylum has come close, making a mockbuster film about the mythical character.
    • Similarly, there are some portions of Greek and Egyptian mythology that one would think would be fairly important in the Marvel Universe, but which are somewhat marginalized due to their connection to Wonder Woman or Shazam.
  • Look at any wrestling show or video game before 2007 featuring Hulk Hogan and you'll see somewhere that Hulk, Hulkster, and Hulkamania are owned by Marvel Comics. Fitting since Terry Bolea started using the name Hulk after appearing on a radio show with Lou Ferrigno and the host noted that Terry was "bigger than The Hulk." (In 2007, Hogan got the trademark rights to his own ring name and associated names, which are now owned by his own Hogan Holdings Ltd)
  • Public Domain-centric comics such as Project Superpowers usually rename and occasionally even redesign some characters that, while public domain, have since seen their name, look or legacy become owned by a much larger company.
  • After Ken Penders won his lawsuit with Archie Comics over his characters in their Sonic the Hedgehog comic, he made it clear many times he would sue for even the vaguest similarity to his characters or basic concepts. Some examples include the idea of a Sonic multiverse, as well as evil Sonics in general. Given his aforementioned victory, this intimidated Archie enough to skim around a Sonic multiverse when the Worlds Unite crossover event was released, instead opting for a more expensive solution.
  • It's probably not a coincidence that DC gave up on I Am Not Shazam and renamed their Captain Marvel shortly after Disney bought Marvel Comics.
  • Shortly after Disney bought Marvel in 2009, Jack Kirby’s four children countersued Marvel to try to win back some of his intellectual property. They would eventually settle the main case out of court for undisclosed monetary terms just days before the Supreme Court was set to hear the case in 2014. They are assumed to have been the "winners" since they were the ones being sued in the first place and due to the last minute nature of the settlement. In all likelihood, Disney just bit the bullet and gave them a settlement to avoid a potential ruling that could cause the entire entertainment to spiral into chaos. They did "win" the credit part as his name is now on any Marvel project (starting with Thor: Ragnarok) that even remotely was inspired by his work. There is still some ongoing litigation however.
  • After having the Golden Age superhero of the same name make an appearance in the 1980s All-Star Squadron title, DC Comics attempted to trademark "Uncle Sam." They withdrew their claim when informed that the rights to the character "Uncle Sam" in every possible incarnation is owned by the US Government, and thus by law is free to use by anyone in the US for any purpose at all.
  • When two sisters from Australia formed a band called The Veronicas, Archie Comics came after them because they thought they had named themselves after Veronica Lodge, one of their characters, though the girls asserted that they named themselves after a character from Heathers. This led them to cross-promote their music through Archie Comics, even appearing in a few comics themselves.
    • Archie Comics also came after a punk band called Jughead's Revenge, who were sent a letter from the company about their name. (Not just because of supposed copyright infringement, but because the higher-ups thought their music was inappropriate for the young people who read the comics featuring Jughead, the letter can be found here.)

  • 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. A movie followed suit.
  • 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.
  • Ted Healy once tried to maintain control of The Three Stooges for years after he created the act. First, he prevented Fox from signing Moe, Larry, and Shemp to a motion picture contract because he knew the contract would cut him out. Then, when they left him and started performing by themselves, Healy tried to stop them on a copyright basis. When all else failed, Healy allegedly resorted to terror threats against theatres that were thinking about booking their act, which almost led to Shemp leaving the group.
  • 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.
  • While pretty much every Marvel Comics character has been considered for the Marvel Cinematic Universe at some point, several characters have had to jump through legal hurdles due to different studios owning the movie rights to said characters. Notably, popular characters such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four were originally Exiled from Continuity due to the rights for the former belonging to Sony and the latter two belonging to 20th Century Fox. Marvel and Sony have since come to a deal regarding Spider-Man (Marvel Studios is given creative rights to MCU-based Spider-Man movies with Sony having distribution rights), and Disney's purchase of Fox may lead to appearances by the other hero teams.
  • This is why MGM split with Warner Bros. at the end of the 20th century, ending their home media distribution contract early. Specifically, they worried that Warner Bros. would claim the rights to media companies that they purchased during the period of the contract, including Orion Pictures, Epic Productions, and the pre-1996 PolyGram library.

  • 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).
  • Terry Pratchett wrote in a Brick Joke about the swords of the Nac Mac Feegle glowing blue in the presence of unspeakable grey evil. note  The creatures of ultimate inhuman evil turns out to be Lawyers. The Tolkien allusion becomes clear when it is remembered that in an earlier book, a creature looking almost completely unlike Gollum does a cameo appearance, pursuing small boats on a mighty river in pursuit of a birthday present. Apparently Pratchett's publishers worried about this scene and about the possibility of a visit from the most evil Nazgûl known to fantasy fiction, The Lawyers of the Estate of JRR Tolkien.
  • Since the mid 2010s, the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has got quite litigious about the use of Sherlock Holmes in new films and TV shows. This is complicated. Holmes himself is a Public Domain Character: the earliest books about him (from the 1880s) have now had their copyright expire in all major territories, and the Leslie Klinger lawsuit confirmed anyone can use him. But (at least in the US), they can't use any fact about his character that only exists in the very latest short stories, which came out in the 1920s and are still copyrighted in the US until 2023.note  Since there are very few of those facts available, the trait the Estate tends to sue people over is Holmes having emotions.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Subversion: In 2010, Lionsgate globally blocked several Sesame Street clips on YouTube. Since Sesame Street is owned by Sesame Workshop and not Lionsgate, many asked, "why?" It turned out that all of the clips being blocked were featured in the 1989 TV special Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting, which was about to be released on DVD (with Sesame Workshop's blessing) by Lionsgate.

  • Warner Music Group-affiliated publisher Warner/Chappell Music previously claimed copyright on "Happy Birthday to You!", based on the registration of copyrights by the Summy Company (which they had acquired in the The '80s as Birch Tree Group) in 1935 for a specific piano arrangement of the song. However, the song's history significantly predated this particular publication; the song itself was based on the melody of "Good Morning to All", which was first published in 1893. A publication of the lyrics and music in 1922 did not contain a copyright notice as required by U.S. law at the time (nowadays, the U.S. is part of the Berne Convention, which makes copyright automatic upon publication). In 2015, it was ruled that the publisher's claim was invalid, and that the tune had long entered the public domain.
  • Nursery rhymes can apparently be copyrighted—Larrikin Music sued Men at Work for 3 notes of "Kookaburra" in a flute riff 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, Sorry about that. SME's comments page on YouTube is henceforth almost completely choked with comments about this, with varying degrees of civility towards the actions of the SME company execs.
  • Mattel, the maker of Barbie, famously (and unsuccessfully) attempted to sue MCA Records (the predecessor of Universal Music Group) over the 1997 Aqua song "Barbie Girl". MCA, for their part, counter-sued for defamation after Mattel likened them to bank robbers; both suits were thrown out, the judge's ruling concluding with "the parties are advised to chill".
  • Sony once tried to claim ownership of the entire Bach library, but eventually relented after public outrage.

  • In the mid-Eighties, Williams Electronics began securing trademarks on various aspects of Pinball games in an effort to stymie their competitors, who simply resorted to Writing Around Trademarks instead. These have since fallen into general use now that Williams is no longer in the pinball business. A few examples:
    • Williams trademarked "Multiball" around The '90s to make it so only they could make pinball games with the feature. When Data East came up with "Tri-Ball" (3-ball multiball) and "M-Ball" (6-ball multiball), Williams realized their plan wouldn't work, and decided to license out the term instead. By the time Sega released Apollo 13, they proudly promoted it as the first game with "13-Ball Multiball!".
    • Similarly, "kickback" (an automatic launcher that, when activated, kicks the ball back into play instead of draining) was called "Laser Kick" by Data East, while the Pro Pinball series called it "ball rescue".
    • "Bumpers" has long been generic, but Wlliams used both "thumper bumpers" and "jet bumpers," while Gottlieb had "percussion bumpers" and "pop bumpers," and Genco used "power bumpers".
  • Bally's advertisements for The Addams Family boasted that 49 patents were made specifically for the machine. Like with Williams, they have also since expired as they have not been renewed, allowing other companies to use those mechanisms. That being said, some of them were not very well-liked, like the pulsating magnets throwing the ball in random directions, so no one else wanted to use them anyway.
  • The tilt sensor is a device that detects when the machine has been jostled or lifted too much by the player, giving the player the now famous TILT penalty. In the form of a metal pendulum surrounded by a metal ring (when the pendulum touches the ring, they complete an electrical circuit), the tilt sensor has remained unchanged for 90 years. Why do pinball companies continue to use this mechanism when accelerometers can do the job, but more accurately, with greater customizability, and arguably for less cost? Because accelerometer-based tilt sensors were patented by a troll, and the industry-wide agreement is to continue to use the pendulum mechanism and let this patent expire than to pay money to the troll and encourage more of this behavior.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Big Van Vader wrestled as "Super Vader" in the Universal Wrestling Federation due to Big Van Vader being a gimmick New Japan Pro-Wrestling had Go Nagai himself work on and them not wanting it used by their direct competition.
  • 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 agreement with the World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund, which is still the legal name of that organization's US and Canadian branches) concerning the international use of the WWF acronym.
    • On the flip side: the company aggressively defends any trademarks it owns, when the American Wrestling Association went under, former employees got together and started using and selling the AWA to upstart companies, till WWE torpedoed this budding revival.
    • WWE often trademarks 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, despite being The Dudleys before WWE because WWE bought ECW, where The Dudley gimmick started, and that supposedly qualified for not using it before WWE).
    • 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. He now uses "Christian Cage" in AEW.
    • Ever since the mid-to-late '00s it seems that WWE has taken their policy a step further by making all newcomers use a WWE-given name, even those who previously wrestled under their real names or own their own names. CM Punk, Sting, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Austin Aries, Shinsuke Nakamura and Bobby Roode have all managed to evade this rule.
  • This complaint has been thrown at AAA, not only for not allowing popular wrestlers like La Parka and Psicosis to use their gimmicks away from the promotion but then giving those gimmicks to new wrestlers who then were allowed to use the gimmicks on the independent and foreign circuits with AAA's blessing.
  • CMLL forced a wrestler known as Mistico to abandon his gimmick since they had their own Místico. Then CMLL left that Mistico in search of a new gimmick when he left them and they not only duplicated it with yet another wrestler but also transferred over his entire "Super Sky Team" stable. Ironically, CMLL couldn't or didn't care to block usage of "Los Reyes Del Aire", the Fan Nickname for Super Sky Team taken after recurring a CMLL event that Myzteziz would name a new tag team of his after.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Wizards of the Coast has a trademark on the term "tap" for the act of turning a card sideways to signify it's used.
  • Games Workshop infamously attempted to trademark the term Space Marine. Thankfully for Blizzard, James Cameron and others they were unsuccessful. However, in that case, the estates of Robert Heinlein, Edward Elmer Smith and Bob Olsen (who coined the term in his novel "Captain Brink of the Space Marines" [1932]) would overturn Games Workshop in this.
    • After another defeat over "Imperial Guard", and one over special characters mentioned in the game rules but absent from their miniature lineupnote , Games Workshop snapped and renamed several factions to more trademark-friendly names (yielding absurdities like "Aelfs" and "Orruks"), while removing all "offending" special characters from their rules.
  • Battletech was originally named Battledroids. What happened next is a bit of conjecture, but either story hinges in the fact that LucasFilm has registered a trademark to the word "droid":
    • One story claims that FASA voluntarily decided to change the name in the hopes of sweetening the pot in negotiations with LucasFilm for a license to make a Star Wars roleplaying game (to complement their well-received Star Trek and Doctor Who licenses)
    • The other story is that Lucasfilm sent a C&D, forcing a change to the more recognizable name.
    • FASA in either case did not get the hoped for Star Wars license (that going instead to West End Games), and would would be hit hard with this trope about 12 years later after a dispute over the Unseen that would not be fully resolved until 2018, at which time the second of a pair of court cases (the first having resolved in 2017) completely rejected that the company Harmony Gold has licensed the original designs that would become Unseen from never actually owned the IP in the first place.
    • Conversely to their history of being on the receiving end of this trope, FASA themselves had a trademark on the term "Mech", thus contributing to the use of A Mech by Any Other Name by so many other Humongous Mecha franchises.
  • In TSR's Indiana Jones Role-Playing Game from the 80s, the copyright symbol appears next to the word "Nazi" on some of the cardboard tokens used, sparking a rumor that TSR tried to copyright "Nazi". The copyright actually applies to the artwork used... although TSR did become copyright Nazis in later years.

  • columbinus, a play about the lives of the Columbine shooters' lives before the massacre, ran into a strange case of this. There was to be a fantasy sequence in which Loner (Dylan Klebold) fantasizes about acting out the haymow scene in Spring Awakening with Rebel. In the original play which is in public domain, Melchior actually rapes Wendla - but the idea of the scene was that he was fantasizing about kissing and holding her consensually. Problem was, the musical Spring Awakening that was in off-Broadway production at the time (2004) already featured Melchior and Wendla having consensual sex. The scene was replaced with him helping Rebel act out the lines for Romeo and Juliet.

  • Averted with Lego bricks. The patent for the bricks expired long ago, and Lego has so far been unsuccessful in their efforts to trademark their iconic 2x4 brick, hence why you'll find very similar brands of construction sets like Mega Bloks on the market. Hasn't stopped Lego from trying to take legal action against them time and time again, though. And this despite the fact that they themselves got into hot water due to being similar to Kiddicraft play bricks, which they settled out of court on.

    Video Games 
  • Sega holds patents for the corkscrews from Sonic 2's Emerald Hill, the loops from Aquatic Ruin which are crossed by an alternate path and also the teleportation item from Vs mode.
    • Sega also owns a patent on using an on-screen arrow to tell the player which direction to go (and it was valid enough to sue the makers of The Simpsons: Road Rage and get them to settle). 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.
    • According to Mike Pollock, Sega somehow owns the rights to his Eggman voice.
    • Sega originally tried to patent multiple view angles in Virtua Racing, which held water for awhile but eventually invalidated when Nintendo pointed out that it had been done in Star Wars: Attack on the Death Star.
    • Sega claims that they still hold the patent for real-time view angle change as seen in Daytona USA, though, which is why fluid view angle changes are absent from other driving games from Bandai Namco and the like. Thankfully, most people don't care much for the feature and some even found the real-time view angle changes nauseating.
  • 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. Weirdly, the same change wasn't made for the later Virtual Console release of EarthBound.
    • 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 Tetrimino 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 tetriminoes. 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:
    • Nintendo owned the use of the Sanity Meter in video games. They patented it when they made Eternal Darkness. (Well, more specifically, what they patented was when it goes down). It finally expired in the tail end of 2021.
    • Nintendo also patented the D-Pad in the form of a cross-shaped button. This is the reason why all of SEGA's and Microsoft's systems had circular D-pads and the PlayStations have four buttons arranged in a cross in their place. However, the patent expired in the mid-2000s, thus the Xbox One controller has a proper D-pad.
    • Nintendo trademarked the phrase "It's On Like Donkey Kong", as well as several sounds from Super Mario Bros. (including coins, mushrooms, and pipes) in the mid-2010s. The copyright for "It's on like Donkey Kong" eventually expired in 2020.
    • Upon the release of Donkey Kong, Universal Pictures tried to hit Nintendo with a copyright suit, arguing that the character of Donkey Kong infringed on Universal's copyright on King Kong. This worked out badly for Universal, as not only did Nintendo prove that Universal did NOT own the copyright on King Kong, but that a previous lawsuit had proven that King Kong was public domain. The winner of said lawsuit? Universal Pictures themselves!
    • The subsidiary company Intelligent Systems has trademarked the terms “Pegasus Knight”, a Character Class in the Fire Emblem series, and “Manakete”, a race of shape-shifting dragons, due to theme being two of the most popular classes in the series.
    • Early into the Wii's console life, Nintendo aggressively patented numerous Wii Remote peripherals that they ultimately had no intent to use. This is not as bad as it seems: As the peripherals included a teddy bear made of non-porous material and a solid baseball bat, the intent appears to be to prevent third-party companies from making hazardous peripherals. The teddy bear could easily be a smothering or choking hazard; the baseball bat could easily be a blunt weapon.
  • If you were waiting on a Loading Screen of a game made between 1995 and 2015 and wondered why there wasn't a Mini-Game to play while you wait, it was due to Namco; they had a patent on that which lasted during that period, until the patent finally expired in 2015, despite the concept coming from old tape loader games on the C64.
  • Mojang AB, creators of Minecraft, have been involved with a trademark dispute with Zenimax Media, the parent company of Bethesda Softworks, creators of The Elder Scrolls series, over Mojang's attempt to trademark the use of the word "scrolls" in the title of Scrolls (and related merchandise). Bethesda claimed that doing so would infringe on their Elder Scrolls trademark. Both sides were essentially attempting to play this trope trope straight in their favor. (The case would be settled, allowing Scrolls to use the word in its title, but not in any sequels or spin-offs. However, in 2018, Mojang decided to rename Scrolls to Caller's Bane, rendering all previous arguments moot.)
  • 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. On the other hand, Marvel sued NC Soft just because it was theoretically possible to make characters who looked vaguely like Marvel characters (it was eventually settled out of court), so after that they tended to err on the side of over-zealousness.
  • In 2006, the Canadian Red Cross issued a press release asking video game makers to stop using the red cross in their games as a first-aid symbols, because it is actually a protected symbol specific to their organization per The Laws and Customs of War, and inappropriate use could dilute the protective value of the symbol in various dangerous places. This is why, for instance, Valentine from Skull Girls had her costume redesigned after release to change the crosses from red to fuchsia, and later releases of Doom replaced the red crosses on its medpacks with red-and-white pill logos. The "proper" generic symbol for first-aid is a white cross on a green background.
  • 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.
  • In 2014, the developers of Candy Crush Saga held exclusive rights to the word "candy" in app titles, and tried to file for rights of the word "saga". They later gave up on the latter (due to them attempting to sue several companies using "saga" in their products, which created quite a backdraft), and gave up the rights for the former a month later as a result.
  • 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.
  • From around 2000 till 2016, with a few special exceptions such as Forza, Electronic Arts had exclusive rights to Porsche vehicles, so in most non-EA games, they were replaced with the RUF brand instead. The exclusive rights were discontinued in 2016, probably due to Dieselgate scandal hits Porschenote  quite hard.
  • Microsoft owns the concept of Achievements for their Xbox and Windows products. When Sony wanted to implement the system for their PlayStation brand, they got around it with "Trophies", which is similar in concept but different in design.
  • Sony once attempted to trademark the term "Let's Play". No really. It luckily didn't come to pass, but imagine if it did?
  • A man known as Tim Langdell once sat on the word "edge" as a video game title. Enter Frivolous Lawsuit after lawsuit... until he tried it against Electronic Arts, announcing "MIRRORS A new game from EDGE" and then suing them over Mirror's Edge well after it had come out, and had the copyright taken from him.
    • He is also why Bandai Namco renamed "Soul Edge" to "Soul Blade" in the US and named subsequent games as "Soulcalibur" instead.
  • Want to open an establishment where people can order drinks and play arcade games? If you do, then you better not call it a Barcade, unless you want a nasty letter from the Brooklyn-based Barcade chain, who popularized the concept and are very aggressive in enforcing the trademark on their name.
  • Subverted in the famous video game industry lawsuit that saw Capcom take Data East to court over Fighter's History and its similarity to Street Fighter II that didn't play out the way Capcom had intended, with the courts weighing in favor of Data East's right to create similar but otherwise distinct products and that things that look alike are not protected under copyright law. This has parallels to the below lawsuit between Apple and Microsoft over interface elements and it's why a game like Rock Band can use green, red, yellow, blue, and orange fret buttons on its guitar even though the developers, Harmonix Music Systems, are reusing an interface element from their previous work on Guitar Hero (which is owned by Activision).
  • Konami is infamous for this. They have patented the Fast/Slow timing window judgement for rhythm games, the adjustment of judgement timing, Pastel-Kun's comments from Reflec Beat, and Fever Mode system for Tokimeki Idol, etc.
  • Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment succeeded in filing a patent for their Nemesis systemnote  from Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Middle-earth: Shadow of War in 2021 after trying to do so since 2015. News outlets, developers, and players alike were concerned by this news, to say the least, as they feared it would set a dangerous precedent and end up stifling creativity in the games industry.
  • Immortals Fenyx Rising was originally announced by Ubisoft as Gods and Monsters, but the company was forced to rename the game when Monster Energy objected to the original title, somehow claiming that it could cause confusion between a mythological fantasy game and an energy drink of all things.
  • Activision got in a strange legal battle in 2020 against indie developer Randy "Fizzer" Ficker over the trademark of the term "warzone", with Ficker filing the trademark for his long-running webgame of the same name as to not be confused with Call of Duty: Warzone, which came out earlier that year. Both parties have sued the other under the claim that the other was creating brand confusion, with the battle since spilling into proper ownership of the title.
  • id Software is often involved in legal battles over people using the word "doom", claiming that it could cause confusion with the Doom games, even in situations where there is absolutely no confusion, with the company recently going after a man attempting to trademark the word "doomscroll" for the name of a band.

    Web Video 
  • In late January of 2016, The Fine Brothers controversially announced plans for React World, a reaction video network that tried to commercially affiliate the genre itself with their own channel by trademarking the term "React" and copyrighting reaction videos, which would give them a cut of the profits on all videos in the "reaction" genre. This led to a massive backlash against them from viewers and other YouTubers for supposedly trying to take control of reaction videos on YouTube, and their subscriber numbers started dropping like flies (losing around 100 a minute because of their decision). On February 2, they repealed their decision, removing the licenses and subsequent Content ID strikes.
  • A similar scenario happened when Waffsicle tried to claim that they own the idea of throwing darts onto a map and travel to where it lands. To the point of demanding credit from people who did the same thing. This was something RebelTaxi covered in this video.

    Western Animation 

    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 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. This is likely because cleaning products and computers are different enough 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. The U.S. Marine Corps copied the idea and made a similar pattern (MARPAT) for their own use. Both governments have trademarked their patterns and do not allow "official" versions to be sold to the public. There are knockoff patterns commercially available.
    • One incredibly important distinction is that MARPAT has the Corps' real trademark, the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor in the pattern. Knockoffs do not, like the Army's UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern), which actually uses the exact same digital pseudo-random pattern, in different colors.
  • 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.
    • 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, for a long time Apple DIDN'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. In 2013, Apple and Gradiente agreed to co-own the "iPhone" trademark.
    • Apple also doesn't have the rights to use the name "iPhone" in China, as it is a trademark for leather products there. Apple has been fighting a legal battle with the company that owns this trademark since 2012.
    • Apple owns the design for oblong-shaped electronic devices with rounded corners and slide to unlock (though this one was invalidated in Germany).
    • Back in the '80s, Apple sued Digital Research and Microsoft for implementing GUIs with overlapping windows, claiming that this was a distinguishing feature of the Macintosh. Microsoft actually licensed some elements from Apple for Windows 1.0, but the interpretation of said agreement was very broad (at least according to Microsoft) so they went ahead with overlapping windows in 2.0. The suit ended up being one of the landmark decisions in US copyright law regarding interface patents: Apple claimed that even if in comparison by separate elements Mac and Windows are clearly different, using those elements in a certain combination can recreate the Macintosh "look and feel". The court ruled that "look and feel" can't be patented. In a way, Google's defense of Android was partially built on that lawsuit, meaning Apple was toasted twice on the ordeal.
  • 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 only applies 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.
    "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.
  • 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". They later brought back the smiley face, but only use it in conjunction with The Spark.
  • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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 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.
    • Likewise, the breast cancer research charity Susan G. Komennote owns the trademark for pink in relation to advocacy for that disease.
    • 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.
    • Home Depot Orange 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 organizations. They do not restrict average people from using those colours in their artwork. So go ahead and paint your car "Barbie pink" with "HotWheels blue" polka-dots. Sure, it may garner you plenty of strange looks and chuckles - but it would not get you into any legal trouble.
    • Guitar pickup manufacturer DiMarzio trademarked double cream bobbins on humbucking pickups. This has caused headaches for Gibson because many of their vintage guitars used double cream pickups (which came about from a faulty batch of bobbins that didn't have the black pigment in them) before DiMarzio started manufacturing and selling them in that color. When reissuing those old instruments, such as when they recreated Jimmy Page's #2 Les Paul, they have to use black or zebra pickups instead.
    • Boise State University has a trademark on its blue football field, and other football teams wishing to have blue turf must obtain a license from them (though there's been some misunderstanding and it's been misreported as Boise having a trademark on the concept of non-green artificial football turf).
    • While most colleges use the Pantone Matching System to designate the proper shade of their school color, a few have actually managed to register their shade as a unique Pantone color, complete with number and shade name, like UCLA Blue (PMS 2383) and Aggie Maroon (PMS 7421) for Texas A&M.
  • 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"), the Boston Red Sox (for the "Green Monster" nickname of the ledt-field wall at Fenway Park), and, because MCP owns a commercial trademark on the word "monster".
    • Because of the way US trademark law works, MCP pretty much had to do this. Many of these cases were flimsy at best—most involved products completely distinct from electronics cables, and the "Green Monster" and "Monsters of the Midway" nicknames predate MCP itself.
  • As noted under "Comic Books", Marvel Comics and DC Comics jointly own the trademark to the words "Super Hero" and "Super Heroes".
  • Similarly, the mark "Swiss Army Knife" has been owned solely by Victorinox since 2005, when it bought Friendly Rival Wenger but kept it as a separate brand. The two remain the only outfits that sell Swiss Army Knives to the Swiss Army.
  • Paris Hilton tried to trademark her catchphrase "That's hot". It was rejected.
  • Donald Trump tried to trademark The Apprentice Elimination Catchphrase "You're fired!" So did a former contestant whom he fired. Both applications were turned down.
  • 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.
  • The New England Patriots attempted 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 University of Texas 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.
  • 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.
  • The NFL has a trademark on the name "Super Bowl", 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.) There's also the NFL's infamous "You can watch the game, but you can't talk about it" statement. This 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 have a bowl...of Planters nuts while watching the big game!"
  • 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 because he didn't want anyone to use 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, 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 ":)" and ";)", 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 onto 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 if they transform then "transformer" is just a bland description, which cannot be trademarked.
    • 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.
    • This proved to be a problem when canonising several fanon names for ponies, as many of them were too generic. Most of them just got another name tagged along with them, such as Lyra "Heartstrings" or Octavia "Melody", but some like Bon Bon (already trademarked by the Hershey Company) or Carrot Top (trademarked by the comedian Scott Thompson) had to be given totally new names.
  • 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 "Asterix" and "Obelix" went to court, forcing the open source project MobiliX to rename to TuxMobil.
  • Harlan Ellison had trademarked his own name.
    • 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 Warner (Bros.) Records, with whom he engaged in a high-profile feud throughout the 1990's. To circumvent this issue and give an extra "fuck you" to the big WB, Prince adopted a deliberately-unpronounceable "Love Symbol" as his stage name until the trademark on his real one eventually expired in 2000. Because Prince had this symbol copyrighted, it is ineligible for use in Unicode for as long as his estate maintains ownership; Warner Bros. had to send out floppy disks to the press that contained a special font with the Love Symbol included, and fans would adopt the emoticon "O(+>" as a way to write out the Love Symbol in text form.
  • Tom Clancy sold the rights to use his name to Ubisoft.
  • Sometimes, this is somewhat Necessarily Evil, due to things like these.
  • 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.
  • Natalie (formerly Nadya) Suleman, famous for being the mother of octuplets, applied for the trademark "Octomom". She hates the nickname, 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, are very specific.
    • A large part of it is that most "Photoshopping" is actually done using any number of free (or at least cheaper) programs. The best way to piss off Adobe's lawyers is to say you photoshopped something in Paint.NET, Paint Shop Pro, Pixelmator, GIMP, 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 trademarks, 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.
    • The same situation applies with Marilyn Monroe. Williams Electronics' Taxi Pinball renamed their Marilyn lookalike to "Lola" and turned her into a brunette to avoid a lawsuit.
  • 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®. [1]
  • 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 common crankpinnote  V-twin engines 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.
  • 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 roarnote  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).
    • For that matter, Intel also trademarked the word "inside". Riverdale potato chips, sold only at Irving gas stations in Atlantic Canada, were abruptly discontinued sometime in the late 1990s/early 2000s because Intel took issue with the slogan on the bag, "Pride Inside".
  • Don't forget Law & Order and their "Dun dun".
  • The Harlem Globetrotters have control over the 1949 recording of the song "Sweet Georgia Brown" 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.
  • The "glissando followed by the words A T and T" has 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. In this, they do, surprisingly, have a point, as words such as "aspirin", "cellophane", "laundromat", and "escalator", which were originally trademarks, were ruled to have been abandoned because of their widespread acceptance 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 up to the present. Paramount, the previous owners, had 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). Ironically, the word "tremolo" as used to describe the pitch-changing mechanism on a guitar is incorrect—"tremolo" refers to a variation in volume, not pitch—and so the other companies without the trademark ended up with the use of the correct word.
  • 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.
  • In a German fanfiction community called, the use of the world "Lichtbändiger" ("Lightbender") was forbidden due to a company which produced sunglasses under that name threatening to sue the website. Cue the fury of many, many 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.
    • Nestlé also attempted to sue a Danish family company (which existed long before they took up their trademark). While it does produce chocolate under a Danish family name, you'd have to squint pretty hard to think it resembles "Nestlé" in any way.
  • Infamous in the video game industry is the 1982 Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Nintendo Co., Ltd. lawsuit, where Universal claimed that 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 lawyer working for Nintendo discovered that not only did Universal not own the trademark rights to King Kong, but that they themselves had argued in the past that the character was in the public domain. The court case officially declared in 1984 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 Pictures, and the Dino De Laurentiis company), they did not hold exclusive rights to the name and character as they had claimed. This court case win against one of the biggest movie studios in the world placed the then-"young"note  Nintendo in the "Don't Mess With Us" category. Nintendo went on to thank the lawyer that helped them win the case by hiring him as their main counsel in America and naming a certain character after him. That said, part of Universal's desire in all this was to have a top-notch video game company to make licensed games for their films. After failing to get Nintendo, Universal bought LJN Toys: a company most well-known through the numerous The Angry Video Game Nerd videos covering their horrid video game library. On a side note, Nintendo and Universal would work together almost thirty years later to create a series of theme parks.
  • 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. [2]
    • 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 with [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 (and wouldn't fall over; the original designs were unstable). 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 in having 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.
    • This was the exact reason why Gojira changed to the Japanese name of the movie when they got signed to a label, after being Godzilla on a few demo tapes.
    • 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...
  • "D'oh!" is trademarked by 20th Century Fox. In a fit of Hypocritical Humor, The Simpsons once invoked this trope using the phrase, when a character portrayed as a lawyer for Disney tells Homer that they own the exact note he always uses with the phrase. Guess who now owns the trademark...
  • Games Workshop owns copyright for the term "Space Marines" and various other things relating to Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. 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), and 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. 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 The Lord of the Rings (and who sued Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty for plagiarizing himself), and was essentially the largest reason it took Peter Jackson almost a decade to finally be allowed to adapt The Hobbit after doing The Lord of the Rings movies.
  • Inverted by Eurovision Song Contest winner Dima Bilan (born 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.
  • 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!"
  • 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 changed 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 naturally-ocurring 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 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.
  • 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 nonprofit now known as Susan G. Komennote  trademarked "for the cure" and the color pink with respect to products related to breast cancer awareness — not pink in general. But they have been known to sue small businesses 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. Before 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 family of Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting victim Victoria Leigh Soto have trademarked her name and face so that websites which promote conspiracy theories that rebuke the legitimacy of the tragedy could not use them. Fellow Sandy Hook parent Lenny Pozner also did a similar tactic against those using the likeness of his slain son Noah for propagating conspiracy theories, establishing the non-profit HONR Network as a way to combat online misinformation and conspiracy-mongering especially those aimed at Sandy Hook victims and their families. Suffice it to say, their efforts served to make Alex Jones even more of a pariah despite Jones' best efforts at defiantly showing no remorse over his outlandish claims.
  • The makers of Listerine mouthwash own the trademark to the shape of its bottle.
  • British telecommunications company Sky UK Limited owns a trademark on the word "Sky". No Man's Sky developer fought a three-year long legal battle with this company over the usage of the word Sky in the game's title, and was luckily allowed to use it. Microsoft was not so lucky, and had to change the name of its cloud storage service from SkyDrive to OneDrive.
  • Stephen Hawking had his near-monotone voice synthesizer trademarked, to the point that once he saw The Theory of Everything, his approval led to a similar computerized speech being replaced by the real deal.
  • In the late 19th century the Netherlands faced a big problem with butter. A lot of manufacturers were selling products of very low quality which couldn't pass for butter if you tried, therefore the Dutch government enacted the "butter law" specifying what exactly goes into butter. Skipping ahead to 1948 when Calvé tries to put peanut butter on the market, they're forced to rename the spread to peanut cheese (pindakaas) because it didn't contain any actual butter.
  • In June 2019, The Ohio State University attempted to put a trademark on the word "The" in relation to its real name of "THE Ohio State University". They were turned down because of the word's frequency of use as a common article.
    • Along similar lines, Ohio University and The Ohio State University have waged what amounts to a "trademark cold war" since the mid-1990s over how the word "Ohio" can be used in reference to higher education (and in particular college sports).
  • In August 2019, LeBron James tried to put a trademark on the phrase "Taco Tuesday".
  • Based on the success of Gone in 60 Seconds (1974) and most especially the Disney-produced remake, H. B. Halicki's widow Denice applied copyrights for the "Eleanor" Mustang featured in the films. This led to lawsuits and cease-and-desist orders against those who made unofficial Eleanor replicas, one notable instance being YouTuber Chris Steinbacher whose Eleanor replica was relenquished. Further reinforcing their hold on the car's trade dress was the legal notice on the official Gone In 60 Seconds site: "Gone in 60 seconds® and Eleanor® are registered trademarks and the Copyrighted “Eleanor” Star Car character and image are owned by Denice Shakarian Halicki and are Licensed under her Company. Please beware that counterfeiting is under 18 U.S. Code 2320 criminal code, includes fines, jail time, forfeiture and destruction of the counterfeit property."
    • Surprisingly enough, they did not go after Rockstar Games who made a loose analogue named "Ellie" in GTA Online, though that could be chalked up to the fact that it was a parodic Fauxrrari than an exact reproduction, and parodies are protected under Fair Use anyway.
  • The NCAA has trademarked March Madness, The Big Dance, Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and Final Four in reference to its annual Basketball tournament, even though it originated none of those names. Most of them had long been used for decades in various states for their high school basketball championships before they ever got applied to the college tournament: March Madness in Illinois, Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight in Kentucky (Illinois also claims these two as well) and Final Four in Indiana. The Illinois High School Association trademarked March Madness first, and a court case mandated that the NCAA has to share the trademark with them. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association trademarked Sweet Sixteen but eventually sold it to the NCAA. The origins of "The Big Dance" are less clear, but it was popularized by ESPN's Dick Vitale in The '80s.
  • Norfolk and Western 611, the iconic Class J 4-8-4 steam locomotive, was trademarked by its owners, the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
  • The Open Group copyrighted the term of "Unix", which it uses to restrict it to systems respecting the Single UNIX Specification (SUS). It led to the use of U*ix for systems not conforming.
  • The family of Martin Luther King copyrighted his speeches and sermons.

In-Universe Examples:

    Audio Play 
  • 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."

    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 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 who then gained the rights to the name Superman. 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. And he would have hired an actor to stage fighting his goons for even more money.
  • 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.
  • Futurama: "The phrase 'Good news, everyone' is a registered trademark of the Planet Express Corporation. The management guarantees no actual good news."

    Fan Works 
  • A Discworld fanfic pastiching the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony ends with a dig at the Olympic Commitee's ... enthusiastic ... trademark protection, by saying, beneath the usual I Do Not Own disclaimer, "Cori Celestic Games, Year of the Second Inception, Summer, Ankh-Morpork and Sport are all trademarks of the A-M Games Committee and may not be used without permission under penalty of big men with sticks."
  • In the Harry Potter fanfic Disillusion, by Hermione Granger, Hermione mentions that Harry patented the magic gene, so as to prevent genetic manipulation or investigation of the genetics behind magic at a time the magical world is still hidden.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Bee Movie, the bees sue rock star Gordon Sumner over his use of the name "Sting".
  • In the Back Story for the film WALL•E, the Buy-N-Large Corporation has trademarked North. You know... the direction? It's part of their "Directional Marketing" program.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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. (And also to assuage fears that things could Go Horribly Wrong, leading to runaway mutant, um, rice.)
  • In Temps, one of the newspaper clippings between the stories was a series of articles about a paranormal concert pianist with a fondness for using his Reality Warper powers to "enhance" his music with special effects. One article stated that he was being sued by Disney for breaching their copyright while performing "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" ... and that the concert hall had been closed down by a specialist team of pest-control officers.
  • Gregory Scott Katouslis's novel, All Rights Reserved, is set in a world where almost all forms of communication are under copyright, and people pay for every word and gesture. At one point in the book, a girl is informed that she looks too much like a particular movie star, and is informed that she will be charged with infringement of rights to that face if she is seen on-screen during a video call in public. When it's established that she can't afford plastic surgery, "deconstructive surgery" is offered to eliminate the infringing face...
  • Towards the end of the final, revised version of Kasia, Connor, his two younger siblings, and Kasia are singing a (parody) of the Mickey Mouse March on a road trip down to Orlando, only for their father (who's a law professor) to stop them before they can completely finish spelling "Mickey Mouse", to which their mother remarks "Just let it go... or is that copyrighted too like 'Happy Birthday' used to be?"note 

    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.
  • 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!" Catchphrase.
  • The science fiction series Babylon 5 has an off-hand mention to Disney Planet. Gets expanded upon in the rpg: it's a lifeless moon in the Orion system that Disney is transforming in a planet-sized theme park. So far they've built 'only' one city-sized domed attraction, but given it's already a financial success...
  • On Powers many superheroes earn money through merchandising and there are many powerful marketing firms who specialize in promoting superhero brands. When Retro Girl is killed, a new heroine tries to step into her shoes and starts to use the name and costume. The marketing company execs are furious and are prepared to sue for trademark infringement but the company president tells them to stop being idiots. If they can sign the new superheroine to a contract, they can promote the Legacy Character aspects and make even more money.
  • In season eleven of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Tom Servo has a makeover to resemble BB-8 from The Force Awakens. When the scene shifts back to the Satellite of Love, Tom is crying because Disney threatened to "smash his globe" if he didn't abandon the makeover.

  • Suggested in Peter Schilling's "(Let's Play) U.S.A.":
    "Did you hear the master plan? One nation under Disneyland."
  • Imagined in Carla Ulbrich's "If I Had The Copyright (the F-Word Song)":
    If I had the copyright on the word (bleep)
    I'd say "(bleep) this job and yourself, you dumb (bleep)!"

    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
  • The Norwegian comic strip Fakta fra Verden 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.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • After being expunged from The Beautiful People, Madison Rayne tried to trademark the name and start her own Beautiful People.
  • In the dying days of WCW Booker T once feuded with his brother and another wrestler over the right to use the letter T in his name.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Red Dwarf: In the description for Earth, it's noted that Conspiracy Theorists receive an invoice from Disney-Chodwara AG regarding one particular conspiracy theory, as they've owned the idea for years and make a tidy profit on it.

    Video Games 
  • In one of the technology quotes in Civilization: Beyond Earth, CEO Suzanne Fielding advocates patenting alien genetic material (and, somewhat more reasonably, hybrid genetics). Whether any of the other factions are inclined to uphold her patents is another matter, of course.
  • Clam Man: Played for Laughs. There are two rival shopkeepers selling sandbags on the street. The second shopkeeper says he isn't allowed to call his products "sandbags" because the first shopkeeper owns the rights to that word. So he calls his products "small rock containers." He still slips up and says "sandbag" a few times, though.
  • In Game Dev Tycoon, your company might get harassed by patent trolls claiming copyright over trivially basic gaming concepts. You can either take them to court, settle out of court, or rally your fans in your defense.
  • In Portal 2, the Aperture Science instructional videos reveal that they've trademarked the word "evacuation" and the phrase "asbestos is harmless!"
  • Segagaga: Every time someone mentions the term RPG, there's a disclaimer that pops out to tell us that "RPGs are a trademark of Bandai". note 

  • Francis of PvP 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.
  • In The Non-Adventures of Wonderella, Wonderella weaponizes this trope when she tricks Santa Claus (who is trying to kill her because she killed him) into getting trapped in the Disney vault. Jesus is horrified by this.
    Jesus: Santa Claus is now property of the Walt Disney Company.
    Wonderella: And Disney never gives back.

    Web Original 
  • During a season finale of Epic Rap Battles of History, a battle between Stan Lee and Jim Henson is interrupted by the Disneyland-Lord of their Intellectual Property. Further down the line during the rap, he also points out that he owns the entire series.
  • In the RiffTrax precursor The Film Crew, there's this riff from Michael J. Nelson during Hollywood After Dark:
    Mike: Hi, I'm a Disney lawyer. This junkyard is a violation of Disney's trademark of Trashy McJunkPile, a character we've never shown but copyrighted anyway.
  • Bill Gates already owns ones and zeros and, since everything can be expressed in binary, all of existence.
  • Ultra Fast Pony:
    • 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.
  • Parodied in the sixth episode of Friendship is Witchcraft. The Cold Open states that the word "apple" and the image of an apple are legal copyrights of the Dole Corporation and that the episode was "modified from its original version to keep within good legal standing". Throughout the episode, all onscreen apples are blurred out and any mention of the word apple is clumsily censored by the name of another fruit. This censorship even extends into Applejack's name and the "Buy some apples!" gag.
  • Small Beans (a group of former Cracked contributors) has a Disney Owns You sketch series, with the premise of Disney acquiring various properties over the years.
  • At one point, Civvie 11 finds himself at the mercy of Pinhead with a cursed NES cartridge of a canceled Hellraiser game. How does Civvie defeat him? By calling Nintendo and telling them about a level in the game that uses unedited Super Mario Bros. 3 assets. Cue C&D and Pinhead being forced right back into the puzzle box.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama:
    • Momcorp apparently holds the trademarks on "mom", "apple pie," "screen door" and "love".
    • In "The Problem with Popplers", the only product names that aren't trademarked are Popplers and Zitzels.
  • In The Simpsons, the Blue-Haired Lawyer character shows up a lot whenever someone "violates" a copyright:
    • In "Lisa the Beauty Queen", the school fair used the tagline "The Happiest Place on Earth", which is copyrighted by Disney (which became a lot funnier when Disney bought Fox, and thus The Simpsons themselves. When confronted by the lawyer, Skinner mercilessly beats him up.
    • In "Lady Bouvier's Lover", Grandpa is imitating Charlie Chaplin's fork-and-potato dance from The Gold Rush 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 unauthorized 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 Durante. I have here a court document ordering an immediate halt to this unauthorized 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.
    • Happens again in "Dude, Where's My Ranch?" when he interrupts the Simpsons caroling and tells them the most well-known carols are copyrighted, and Disney "owns" the song notes A-flat and G natural.
    • In the episode "The Day the Violence Died", when 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 claim is a rip-off of one of their founder's stick-figure mailman character.
  • In one Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode, a man named "Time Warner" travels through time to warn people against doing anything resembling his intellectual property, such as using a bird to play records. He tells the characters that they are not allowed to use Time Travel to undo a nuclear holocaust because his company owns every time travel film and show they can think of.
  • Parodied in Family Guy. when Stewie shares his Halloween candy with Brian and they're forced to use several Bland-Name Product knockoffs instead of the well-known brands.
    Stewie: God, I hate television.
    • Also parodied when the gang is escaping from dirty cops and start talking about restaurants with bland-names like "McDaniels" and "Burger Queen". Quagmire lampshades this with a short "I hate television bureaucracy" rant, then it's taken to extreme lengths near the end:
    Joe: I put in a call from the McDaniel's payphone while you guys were getting that nine-piece Chicken McFingers and those Diet Conks and those Fresh Fries.
    Quagmire: Oh come o- th-they don't own French fries!
    Carter: Oh, dammit. That was Fox News. Apparently, they own the rights to Hitler's likeness and they won't have him slandered.
  • In Jimmy Neutron, a returning Thomas Edison exclaims, at seeing a light bulb, that it was infringing on his trademarks.