SEAL Team 6: Whose Trademark Is It?

The elite special forces of the U.S. Navy known as the SEALs have a nearly 50-year history of being the go-to teams for difficult small-unit military operations. So it came as no great surprise that SEAL Team 6 was the unit that stormed the compound of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011.

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A well-known company decided to capitalize on the attention given these brave heroes so soon after the incident, but faced with negative publicity, abandoned its efforts.

On May 3, 2011, three intent-to-use applications for the trademark SEAL TEAM 6 were filed on behalf of Disney Enterprises, Inc. of Burbank, California. The applications were for such diverse goods and services as clothing, toys, gymnastic and sporting articles, and even Christmas tree ornaments and snow globes. Although federal trademark registration requires use of the mark in commerce, applications can be filed prior to such use if the applicant has a bona fide intent to use the mark in the future. Once the mark has been deemed registrable by the examining attorney, the applicant has six months to allege use. For a fee, this deadline may be extended at six-month intervals up to a total three years, after which the application is considered abandoned. In 2010, a little more than half of all trademark applications filed with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office were intent-to-use, but to date less than 10 percent of those applications have matured to registration. By filing so early, Disney Enterprises was attempting to stake out its ownership of the mark for the goods and services claimed before anyone else does. But the public reaction to the applications were so negative that by the end of May, Disney filed express abandonments of all three applications. Several other applicants also filed for the trademark SEAL TEAM 6 or variations, and as of the writing of this post, at least four applications were still pending.

However, a search of the records reveals that Disney was not the first company to seek federal registration for the SEAL TEAM 6 trademark. In 2002, NovaLogic, Inc. of Calabasas, California applied for trademark registraiton of SEAL TEAM 6 for a variety of video game software and on-line computer gam eservices. In 2004, NovaLogic filed another application, this time for action figures and their accessories. Like Disney, NovaLogic filed its applications on an intent-to-use basis, and even though both applications were cleared for registraiton, the mark was abandoned for failure to allege use in the requisite amount of time.

Intent-to-use trademark applications can be a useful way to reserve a mark before it is used in commerce, but there are limits on how long that reservation can last. And once such an application has been abandoned, it clears the way for others to seek registration of the mark.


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