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Troy, Mich.— December 5, 2023—Those who watched the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade saw the traditional giant balloon lineup of cartoon characters ‘come to life’ in gargantuan helium form, including Pillsbury’s Doughboy and Lucasfilm’s Grogu. Not only were these airborne animations rich in size but also abundant in intellectual property protection through the use of trademark and copyright registrations, according to Alexander JSW Johnson, an attorney at intellectual property specialty law firm Fishman Stewart PLLC.
For example, the pokable Doughboy—also known as Poppin’ Fresh—is protected by at least seven U.S. trademark registrations and five U.S. copyright registrations, and the name Doughboy is subject to at least two U.S. trademark registrations. Similarly, tiny Jedi creature Grogu, aka “baby Yoda,” has its name protected by at least seven U.S. trademark registrations and its image protected by copyright registrations for three posters in which the character appears. Grogu is also the subject of 19 style and development guides protected by U.S. Copyright Registrations.
“That’s a lot of intellectual property,” Johnson noted, “but these trademark and copyright registrations protect very different rights.”
Johnson simplifies the difference between the two in this way: Trademarks are marks of trade—they “mark” the “trade” of the owner, identifying to consumers the source of the products. Copyrights confer the right to prevent others from copying (and reproducing, distributing, performing, displaying, and making derivatives) and protect how ideas are expressed, not the ideas themselves.
“Trademarks protect brands to identify sources, copyrights protect expression. Sometimes both protections can apply to a single creation, as with Poppin’ Fresh and other characters that are used as brands,” he said. “Both types of protections are valuable to their owners as they seek to drive value in the brands and their expressions.”
Johnson added that these registrations do not give Pillsbury and Lucasfilm free rein to use the Doughboy or Grogu names for any and all things, but rather they serve to indicate the source of the particular products and related goods and services. The three Poppin’ Fresh trademark registrations specifically identify flat bread, frosting, and dry hot roll mixes, while the Grogu registrations identify clothing, beverageware, sunglasses, and bags—among other goods.
However, Johnson noted that if trademarks achieve “fame”—recognition transcending their specific industry—that renown confers rights far beyond the goods listed in their IP registrations.
“That Doughboy and Grogu floated through the streets of New York might be a fair indication of fame,” he said.
Also, if the character is both a desirable brand and one that third parties want to use on their products and services, such as in the case of the force-wielding Grogu, they can pay royalties to the owner for that right. These licenses usually are accompanied by a “style guide” that dictates and limits how the licensee can use and depict the licensed property. Grogu is the featured character for many Lucasfilm Ltd. Inc. style guides that are protected by U.S. copyright registrations.
“Whether the Grogu use in behemoth balloon form was specified in the style guides or not, you can bet that a copyright and/or trademark license was behind Grogu’s levitation act through the streets of Manhattan,” Johnson said. “In fact, Funko, a toymaker and licensee of Lucasfilm, manufactured the giant floating feature of the tiny Jedi creature.”
Fishman Stewart would like to congratulate our colleague, Alex Johnson, on his press release being posted in Legal News!
About Fishman Stewart PLLC
Fishman Stewart helps turn client creativity into valuable intellectual capital. Since its founding in 1996, the firm has obtained tens of thousands of patents and trademark registrations and represented clients in hundreds of cases in Federal Court. As strategic advisers to CEOs and senior executives, Fishman Stewart attorneys develop IP management strategies for U.S. and foreign-based companies to safeguard their business assets throughout the world. To discover how Fishman Stewart leverages intellectual property to effectively increase enterprise value, visit fishstewip.com.