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.
Real Life Examples:
- The Swedish comic character Arne Anka is a cartoon duck with a fondness for drinking, sex, classic literature, and political rants — nothing like 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), only returning to duck form in the final issue. Eventually, Disney bought Marvel outright and got Howard with them, so he's even got an ongoing that featured some snark at Disney (Howard's friend Tara Tam wants to go to Orlando, he replies "Who wants to see a bunch of pantless ducks?").
- 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 & 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. 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. (1993) 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 trademark to "Shark Boy". The wrestling people must have gotten a nice settlement, considering that the movie came out. (Perhaps as revenge, it's impossible to find Sharkboy wrestling videos on a Google search.) And Disney wound up losing the rights to the film anyway in the sale of Miramax to Sony.
- 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.
- 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's own company, Hogan Holdings, Ltd., got the trademark rights to his own ring name and associated names.)
- 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 has since been slapped 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 https://www.punknews.org/article/470/jugheads-resolution-from-archie-comics 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 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) are out of copyright 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 were 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.
- 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". On the other hand, Kraft Foods never made a fuss over the song despite direct mention of Vegemite in the lyrics. Neither has Mondelez (the corporate successor to Kraft Foods, which now owns only Kraft's former snack food business) nor Bega Group (the current owner of Vegemite, who purchased it along with some other Mondelez assets in 2017).
- Since Sony Music Entertainment got into bed with YouTube, music videos which were formerly freely available outside the USA are 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.
- Thomas Dolby, born Thomas Morgan Robertson, got his stage name from his habit of messing around with cassette tapes and keyboards. Dolby Laboratories tried to pressure him into changing his name but his label refused to do so. Eventually it was decided in court that Dolby Labs had no right to force Thomas Dolby to change his name and the two parties compromised by agreeing that Thomas would not release any electronic equipment under his own name.
- 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 fallen into general use ever since Williams left 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!".
- "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 Williams 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 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.
- 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 initialism.
- 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 uses "Christian Cage" in AEW.
- Ever since the mid-'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. Though they have made exceptions for wrestlers who became huge stars in other promotions (e.g. CM Punk, Sting, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Austin Aries, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, EC3,note Karl Anderson) or other mainstream athletes/celebrities turned wrestlers who are far bigger than pro wrestling (e.g. Ronda Rousey, Logan Paul).
- 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.
- Wizards of the Coast has a trademark on the term "tap" for the act of turning a card sideways to signify it's used.
- Many changes that Pathfinder Second Edition Remastered makes to the rules and setting of PF2e were made to properly sever Pathfinder from Wizards of the Coast's Open Gaming License—and with it, access to a good portion of WotC's IP that would otherwise let Paizo defy the trope. Notable casualties include the drow and Character Alignment, though it's also given Paizo a good excuse to cut Dungeons & Dragons-specific holdovers that no longer made sense for the game, like druids having a ban on using metal armor.
- 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" ) 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.
- 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 (1994).
- 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 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 owns a trademark on the use of the term "Rumble" to refer to haptic feedback in a controller. This is why competing systems and their games use the more generic "vibration".
- 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... although that didn't stop them from quoting it in The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
- 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 them 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, publisher 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. However, 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 Skullgirls 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 the Dieselgate scandal hitting 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 is 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 arrow receptors in DanceDanceRevolution, so only DDR and Pump It Up can use it. This is how In the Groove was killed by legal issues. StepManiaX had to use a pair of brackets instead to avoid the same fate.
- They have patented the Fast/Slow timing window judgement for rhythm games. However the extent to which this is enforced is ambiguous because there are many non-Konami rhythm games that have early/late note display, albeit with some restrictions on how they work:
- In the Groove 2 is perhaps one of the first rhythm games to have this feature, although that game was litigated into oblivion for being a "clone" of DanceDanceRevolution.
- Arcaea has this feature, with no real limitations to speak of.
- D4DJ Groovy Mix shows a graph of the player's timing trends at the end of every song. If the player has the monthly Live Pass subscription feature, they are shown fast/slow status for every note hit, a more precise graph, and exact fast/slow counts for every judgement other than Just Perfect.
- DJMAX Respect used to have this feature, however it was removed because of this patent and it was this incident that brought Konami's rhythm game patents to light.
- EZ2ON REBOOT : R shows early/late hits when hitting notes, but the counts thereof are only shown on the game interface after the last note in the song is hit, before going to the results screen, but not on the results screen itself. It is shown after every song in a course, course overall results, and the recent plays tab in the Lounge menu, however.
- Lanota has this feature, but locks it behind a monthly subscription similar to D4DJ.
- The Performai trilogy has this, but calls it "Fast" and "Late".
- KALPA refers to early and late hits as "Plus" and "Minus" hits, respectively.
- They have also patented the adjustment of timing offset in the same genre, but again the enforcement of this patent is unknown because this feature is available in many rhythm games.
- They have also patented 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.
- 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.
- Warner Bros. recently filed for a trademark for the use of the "Big Chungus" meme in video games.
- The word "Yomi" (a common Japanese word) is currently trademarked by Yomi creator David Sirlin, who can and will take action against almost any other game that has the word in its title. One notable example of this is when Your Only Move Is HUSTLE (formerly known as "Yomi Hustle") was briefly delisted from Steam due to trademark infringement, forcing developer Ivy Sly to rename it. At least two other games which originally had "Yomi" in their names have suffered similar fates and also had to be renamed as a result.
- If you were wondering why there were no RPGs released between 1992 and 2011 that used the Active Time Battle system, Square Enix actually owned a patent for said system during that time.
- 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.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- Big Macintosh was originally "Big Apple" and Apple Bloom was originally "Appleseed", but both were changed at the request of Hasbro's legal department for this reason. Lauren Faust also insisted on using the spelling "McIntosh" instead of "Macintosh" for this same reason. Funnily enough, Big Macintos'sh in-series nickname of "Big Mac" (from a restaurant that has often had MLP Happy Meal promotions) isn't all that lawyer-friendly either (the writers have to be careful when and how they use it).
- Literal example with Starlight Glimmer, who was to be "Aurora Glimmer" (which would have fit her colors, mane, and cutie mark design better), but was changed since Disney trademarked Aurora from the princess in Sleeping Beauty.
- Warner Bros. owns a copyright on the phrase "That's all, folks!"
- Chuck Jones once joked that the title of his 1940s cartoon "The Aristo-Cat" retroactively plagiarized Disney's 1970 feature "The Aristocats."
- This is not as extreme an example as the Trope Namer, but DreamWorks Animation acquired Classic Media in 2012. This means that DreamWorks owns the rights to The Lone Ranger, Rocky and Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle, and Underdog. Disney had to pay DreamWorks in order to continue making their Lone Ranger movie. Amusingly, Buena Vista released a few Rocky and Bullwinkle videos in the '90s, and Disney already made movies based on Underdog and George of the Jungle long before DreamWorks acquired Classic Media.
- Tom Kenny has said that Nickelodeon owns the voice he uses for Spongebob Squarepants, meaning he can't use it for any other roles as voice actors do sometimes. This may has been caused by how he reprised the role in an “X-Presidents” sketch on TV Funhouse without Nick’s authorization.
- Arcane Flames author Kutty Sark had a DMCA takedown request filed against a design based on their own comic by Riot Games, due to it containing the word Arcane. Riot later put out a tweet claiming that this takedown request was made in error and that they would be working on resolving it.
- The Firesign Theatre's album Give Me Immortality... Or Give Me Death! has repeated promos from "U.S. Plus": "We own the idea... of America." Toward the end of the play they're announcing "We own the idea... of the idea of America."
- The Silver Age comic book supervillain, The Prankster, once copyrighted all of the letters in the alphabet and tried to extract royalties from anyone who used them while writing.
- Also in The DCU, Lexcorp owns a little bit of everything. In fact, one of their sneakier schemes against the Man of Steel was an attempt to trademark the word "Superman" that would have legally forced Superman to pay them a royalty every time he appeared in public.
- This also became a minor plot point in The Death of Superman storyline - Luthor attempted to buy Superboy using Matrix Supergirl as "bait". He almost fell for it before he was wooed in by Rex Leech 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."
- Edge of Spider-Geddon: In the distant future of 2099, Kang the Conglomerator owns all rights relating to the image and person of the anarchic Spider-Man, whom he has rebranded as "Spider-Punk". Kang has already made a tidy profit from this long-dead superhero by merchandising the hell out of him with toys, comics, and movies. He wants to make even more money by traveling back in time to kidnap Spider-Man and bring him back to the future, where Kang will "smooth out" his rough edges and turn him into a sanitized corporate mascot.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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)":
- 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.
- 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.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Apparently the sound of a thousand people say "wop" simultaneously is the registered trademark of the Krikket-Kola Corporation, and is used with their permission.
- The Christmas Episode of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme opens with a brainstorming session for a thinly disguised version of The John Lewis Christmas Ad. The credits end with the announcement that Christmas, the colours red and green, and the emotion of merriment, are all registered trademarks of John Mulligan Stores plc.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
Apple Bloom: Oh, kind of like Timmy Turner, from that other cartoon!
- In "Out with the Old Characters", Dr. Whooves says he changed his name to Time Turner to comply with copyright.
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.
- 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.
Skinner: Copyright... expired.
- 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)
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!
- And again after Grandpa stands under a streetlamp, saying "Goodnight, Mrs. Bouvier. Wherever you are."
(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 "The PTA Disbands", Skinner is surprised to learn a formerly free historical theme park now charges payment for entry. The culprit? The new management stylings of Diz-Nee.note
- 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 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.
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!
- 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:
Carter: Oh, dammit. That was Fox News. Apparently, they own the rights to Hitler's likeness and they won't have him slandered.
- And the time that Peter made a propaganda ad about banning weed by portraying Adolf Hitler and his fans as baked psychopaths who were "inspired" to kill six million Jews by smoking pot:
- Parodied following Disney's real-life buyout of 20th Century Fox in "The Birthday Bootlegger"; Stewie has to go to Quahog Elementary School for his first detention, where he finds Bart Simpson writing "It is a pleasure to work for the Disney corporation" on the chalkboard repeatedly. He then says, "Oh, that is a load of...", but his voice gets dubbed by Mickey Mouse saying "Truth! A wonderful load of truth!"
- In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, a returning Thomas Edison exclaims, at seeing a light bulb, that it was infringing on his trademarks.