NAVY SEALS AND SEAL TEAM TRADEMARKS

June 8, 2011, 11:54 AM

Headlines like Navy Fights Disney for Seal Team 6 Trademark and Walt Disney Surrenders to Navys SEAL Team 6 led reports of a skirmish in which Disney tried to exploit the popularity of the Navy Seals by applying for federal registration of SEAL TEAM 6 as a trademark for, among other things, entertainment services, toys and games, and clothing. Disneys trademark applications were filed on May 3, 2011, just two days after first reports of the Seals successful bin Laden mission. The U.S. Navy countered with its own trademark applications for SEAL TEAM as an indicator of membership in a Navy organization that develops and executes military missions involving special operations, and for the term NAVY SEALS as a trademark for posters and clothing. Press reports did not specify what other persuasive techniques may have been applied to Disney, but the end result was express abandonment of the Disney applications on May 25.

End of story? Not really. In fact, Disney was not the only one who saw and acted on the opportunity to try to get trademark rights in the Navy Seals and Seal Team 6 names after the recent events in Pakistan. Between May 16 and May 20, applications were also filed by a California company on SEAL TEAM 6 as a trademark for watches and related items; by an individual in California on seal team raider 6 as a trademark for action figure toys; and by another company by the name of Justice is Done, LLC for SEAL TEAM 6 as a trademark for commemorative coins, key rings, jewelry, and wall plaques. A fourth application filed by another watch company for SEAL TEAM 6 as a trademark for its products was abandoned on May 27, but these other three remain alive and will now begin moving through the examination process at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). With less to lose than Disney in the court of public opinion, these three applicants may be less susceptible to whatever pressure the Navy might bring to bear to get them to abandon their efforts to obtain trademark registrations on the Seal Team 6 name.

Fortunately, the Seals may have an ally in the best possible position to keep any of these applications from maturing into an issued trademark registration. Applications filed in 2001 for registration of the term Navy Seals Team as a trademark for toys, and in 2004 for NavySeals.com as a trademark for clothing and other items, were rejected by the PTO and then abandoned by the applicants. The rejections were based on the PTOs position that, if granted, the registrations would have falsely suggested a connection between the U.S. Navy Seals and the unrelated parties who filed these applications. Yet another application for Navy Seals as a trademark for knives, filed by a cutlery company in February 2011, has been initially rejected by the PTO for other reasons, even though the false suggestion of a connection to the U.S. Navy Seals would seem to apply equally to this application as to the two others previously rejected on that basis.

So who should be entitled to trademark registrations on the Navy Seals, Seal Team and Seal Team 6 names? One would like to say its the U.S. Navy, and it seems likely they will succeed in getting issued registrations on the NAVY SEALS and SEAL TEAM names from the two applications they filed on May 13. What about Seal Team 6? The Navy has not filed an application claiming trademark rights in this name, and an unnamed Navy official has been quoted as saying that, We certainly would not request a trademark on a SEAL team that doesnt exist, like SEAL Team 6. This could leave the door open for someone less scrupulous than Disney to obtain a trademark registration on this name.

A footnote to all of this The only U.S. trademark registrations issued to date on any of these names are two that were issued in 2001 for a trademark containing the term SEAL TEAM. These registrations are owned by a private organization (presumably not affiliated with the U.S. Navy Seals) that certifies scuba divers and engages in related activities. They cover a wide range of educational materials relating to scuba diving, snorkeling and oceanography. --Robert E. Smartschan