HOW STRONG IS YOUR IP ‘FORCE’?

The Star Wars ‘force’ is 40 years old this year and is undoubtedly one of the largest pop culture phenomena in the world. The brand extends beyond movies to clothing, toys, games, music, theme parks and television shows. One of the factors that has contributed to the success of the Star Wars franchise is the extent to which the maker of Star Wars, George Lucas, has sought to aggressively protect and enforce the Star Wars intellectual property.

LucasFilm (and Walt Disney) is renowned for taking on anyone who it deems to be infringing on the brand rights – even Ronald Reagan’s administration received a complaint for calling its strategic missile defence system “Star Wars.” In 2016, Lucasfilm sued the so-called “New York Jedi and LightSaber Academy” – a school that was offering classes on Jedi combat by expert “lightsaber and swordplay practitioners.” It’s claimed that the school’s use of the words “Jedi” and “lightsaber” and the “Jedi Order” logo all constitute infringement of Lucasfilm’s trade mark rights.

Lucasfilm and Walt Disney have filed numerous patents, designs and trade marks worldwide. The intellectual capital of a business or entertainment franchise constitutes a significant component of its total asset base; the value of the intellectual capital could exceed the value of the fixed assets of the business or its working capital. It has been recognised that the intellectual capital of a business provides the most potent – and most effective – impetus to its earning power. So vigorous and jealous guarding of IP rights is much like protecting your supplies and money from the raiding and pillaging Alkhara Bandits! You can find a list of Star Wars design patents and trade marks here.

What else can be learnt from the Star Wars IP story? Most businesses will protect their main brand name or logo in defending their primary IP rights, but secondary brand names and logos (“Jedi”, “Darth Vader” etc) that are not the main brand name, but which still uniquely identify the mark are also worth protecting.

Second, be uncompromising in enforcing your rights. Keep a look-out for IP infringement of your brand and don’t hesitate to act when someone is abusing your IP rights. Legal action may sometimes be expensive, but often all it takes is a friendly “letter” from your counsel. Not acting may cost your brand much more in the long-run – and nobody likes a diluted brand asset (Just ask Dooje Brolo!)

STEPHEN HOLLIS

Partner
Trade Mark Attorney

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