If you heard Disney executives talking about seals, you’d likely think they’re referring to animating the adorable creatures—and you’d probably have been right until the multimillion dollar corporation filed papers with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to register the trademark “SEAL TEAM 6.”
Yes, *that* SEAL Team 6—the one that killed Osama bin Laden in a raid in Pakistan earlier this month.
Disney’s three trademark applications were filed on May 3, two days after the announcement of bin Laden’s death and seek to protect its right to use “SEAL TEAM 6” in “entertainment and education services,” “toys, games and playthings,” “Christmas stockings; Christmas tree ornaments and decorations; snow globes,” and “clothing, footwear, and headwear,” among other things.
It’s not a done deal, though, that Disney’s trademark requests will be granted; Boing Boing notes that two previous requests to trademark “Seal Team 6” by a company called NovaLogic were denied in 2002 and 2004. Gawker also had some choice words about the applications.
As USA Today notes, this isn’t the first time a private company has attempted to trademark and use names from military operations. Sony secured the trademark for the Iraq War’s battle plan of “shock and awe” with intentions of using the term in a video game that never came to fruition (Sony abandoned the application—the mark is now registered to an individual who is also using it in relation to video games). Indeed, PC Magazine has reported that SEAL Team 6 may also appear in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 video game from Activision Blizzard, to be released in November—presumably without securing any rights to the name first.
Although it might seem strange that a private company could register what seems to be the name for part of the United States military, it’s not as outlandish (at least legally) as it may appear. While flags, “coats of arms’” and “other [government] insignia” are not protectible under US trademark law, the list of these items that are deemed “other [government] insignia” is quite short and, according to the USPTO, “the wording ‘other insignia’ should not be interpreted broadly.” The cases are split: in one, the United States Manufacturing Company was able to register “USMC,” a common designation for the United States Marines—the court found that, as a part of the Department of Defense, its insignia was not like a flag, or coat of arms. In another, though, an applicant was denied registration of the design of a US Postal Service mailbox—the court thought it falsely suggested that the applicant was connected to the USPS. So the success of Disney’s applications may turn on whether they are deemed confusing, rather than whether the name is a government insignia. Only time will tell.
The Walt Disney Co. has not commented publicly on its trademark applications, but if you’re curious to know what the Navy thinks, this is from the US Navy SEALS blog:
It certainly looks like someone will make a mint out of the SEALs’ bravado… we can only hope that something good will still arise out of this consumerism, such as encouraging patriotism and increased appreciation for the efforts of our Navy SEALs.
That could be right: Since Disney’s application, there have been two more applications to register the name—both for watches and jewelry.
What do you think of the trademark applications and Disney’s intentions to use the SEAL Team 6 name? Would your buy a “SEAL Team 6″ ornament for your Christmas tree?