On May 3, 2011, two days after the elite Seal Team Six took down Osama bin Laden, Disney sought to capitalize on the event by filing various federal trademark applications for “SEAL Team 6,” as used in association with clothing, toys, games, entertainment and education services. Ten days later, the Department of the Navy filed for a collective membership trademark for “Seal Team.” The Department of the Navy also filed a trademark application for “Navy Seals,” as used in association with clothing and posters. Then others joined the fray. On May 16th, M.Z. Berger & Co. filed a trademark application for Seal Team 6, as used in association with clocks, jewelry and watches and on May 20th, Justice is Done, LLC filed a trademark application for Seal Team 6 as used in association with commemorative coins, key rings, jewelry and plaques. So who gets the Seal Team 6 trademark?
Federal trademarks registrations are limited to a specific type of goods. One company may own the “Apple” trademark as applied to recorded music and another company may own the “Apple” trademark as applied to computers. As long as there is no “likelihood of confusion” between the marks, in the eyes of the public, both registrations will be allowed. If one company creeps into the other’s market, say by selling online music, this may lead to a “likelihood of confusion,” where none existed before. When this happens one registrant may seek an an injunction (a court order), to force the creeping user to stop infringing on the trademark owner’s rights.
Wouldn’t the Navy Object?
Whereas one might think the Department of the Navy would try to block any trademark registrations on the name of its elite fighting force, that has not been the case in the past. Back in 2002, a company called NovaLogic, Inc., filed trademark applications on Seal Team and Seal Team 6, as used in association with video games and entertainment services. The Department of the Navy does not appear to have objected. Although the Trademark Office appears to have approved the applications, NovaLogic, Inc. never filed a statement that it was actually using the trademark, so the applications went abandoned in 2006. In 2004, NovaLogic, Inc., also filed trademark applications on Seal Team and Seal Team 6 for action figures, but those registrations were approved and abandoned as well.
So who owns the Seal Team 6 trademark?
Back in 2004, the Department of the Navy filed a trademark application on Seal, as a collective trademark, indicating membership in an organization. This trademark registration issued on August 28, 2007. Given the Department of the Navy’s prior trademark registration for “Seal” and new trademark applications for Navy Seals and Seal Team, will the Trademark Office allow Disney’s registrations for Seal Team 6? And even if the Trademark Office allows the registrations, will the Department of the Navy file oppositions? No one knows. It all boils down to whether anyone feels there is a likelihood of confusion. A case can be made either way. In these situations, the applicant with the most money often ties up the other applicant with legal fees until they cry “uncle.” In this case, we have an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. It could be that all applicants end up keeping to themselves and their respective product lines and do not make a fuss. More likely, the Department of the Navy and Disney will have to come to some agreement between themselves as to how they want to handle avoiding confusion. In the event they cannot come to terms, this could become a trademark battle for the ages. I do not know which side will prevail, but between Seal Team 6 and Mickey Mouse, I would never bet against the guy with the M4.