18 Jun Space Force & Trademark Searching
What ‘Space Force’ Can Teach Us About the Importance of Trademark Searching
In 2018, President Trump directed the Department of Defense to create a sixth branch of the military he dubbed the “Space Force.”
The U.S. Space Force is meant to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and provide space capabilities to the U.S. Military. This move has often been a talking point for the president, with supporters often chanting “Space Force” at his rallies in the months following the directive.
In January 2019, Netflix green-lit production for a comedy series titled “Space Force” and immediately began filing trademark applications outside the U.S. for the “Space Force” name. The fictional series stars Steve Carrell and John Malkovich, and follows the people tasked with establishing the new branch of the military. The series premiered on Netflix on May 29, 2020. Meanwhile, The U.S. Air Force filed an intent-to-use application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the “Space Force” mark in March 2019, and the real-life Space Force was not established as a formal organization until December 2019.
Due to the obvious differences between a Netflix show and a branch of the military, no one is likely to confuse the two. Fans of NBC’s The Office or HBO’s The New Pope, will not be showing up at a military base to try to get autographs from Carrell or Malkovich, and astronaut soldiers are not going to think that Netflix is sponsoring their academy. We already knew this from previous shows like CBS’ JAG and NCIS, for which Paramount Pictures received trademark protection without complaint from the federal government.
However, what may become an issue is merchandise. Should Netflix want to start selling mugs and t-shirts with their Space Force logo on them, the Trump administration may wish to step in and stifle those sales.
Recently, the US Government has become more aggressive in protecting its trademarks. After a 2007 directive issued by the Department of Defense, the military began issuing cease and desist letters to companies like Zazzle and CafePress for printing merchandise with military insignias. Whether the government would similarly seek to protect and license Space Force merchandise is particularly interesting given that Donald Trump is president, a businessman known for creating a brand and then licensing it out for profit.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, an official Air Force spokesperson has said, “At this time we are not aware of any trademark conflicts with the fictional program Space Force produced by Netflix.” However, should the Pentagon go to war against Netflix over this trademark, it is likely that the USPTO would find that Netflix began using the mark in January 2019, while the government did not begin truly doing so until the following December. Under the United States “first-to-use” trademark system, this would grant protection to Netflix’s use of the mark over the military. Furthermore, because trademark law allows for parody and satire, there is still a good chance that Netflix would have the right to use the name even if the federal government secures its trademark.
What does this mean for your new business? You might not be starting a branch of the military, but you will still spend a lot of time and money on materials to promote your brand. How do you avoid wasting your resources only to find out another company already has the rights to the brand? Simple, you get a trademark search.
A good trademark search will not only identify any potentially problematic pending or registered trademarks in federal and state databases, but also similar words, phrases, or designs that are already in use but whose owner hasn’t yet filed a trademark application and may have common law protection on a “first-to-use” basis. If the Pentagon had done a trademark search prior to the U.S. Space Force’s official organization in December 2019, they could have identified the potential conflict with Netflix earlier and perhaps changed their name to “Space Guard” or “Space Corps” before spending time and money on “Space Force” branding. You too can avoid wasted effort by performing a trademark search before moving forward with your brand.
Don’t know where to begin with a trademark search? Not sure how to search for marks that represent goods or services similar to your own? Unsure how to find marks that are similar to your mark, but don’t exactly match and are still potentially confusing? Cardinal Intellectual Property provides reasonably priced trademark searches that include results from federal, state, and common law sources. Our searches are performed by knowledgeable search professionals with backgrounds in intellectual property law. For more information on Cardinal IP’s trademark searches, or to request a quote, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, call (847) 905-7122, or visit cardinal-ip.com.