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Why Would Disney Want to Trademark 'Dia de los Muertos'?

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on May 10, 2013 2:15 PM

Disney has made a killing by dipping generously into various cultural pools: "Mulan," "Brave," "Lilo and Stitch," "Pocohontas," and "The Princess and the Frog," to name a few. But why would the children's entertainment powerhouse try to trademark Dia de los Muertos?

Trademarks can be useful legal tools when creating a company or marketing a product, but as Disney may have learned, it can be less than magical trying to trademark an existing cultural holiday.

A Dia de los Muertos Movie?

Although Disney said in a statement Tuesday that they were withdrawing their trademark filing for "Dia de los Muertos," the initial legal move was connected to an upcoming Disney-Pixar movie inspired by the Day of the Dead, reports the Los Angeles Times.

This was not the first time Disney has courted controversy over a trademark. You may recall the uproar when Disney tried to trademark "SEAL Team 6", the name of the elite squad that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

Can a Holiday Be Trademarked?

Those in vehement opposition to Disney's attempt to trademark a cultural holiday wondered why the media giant thought it was OK to trademark "Dia de los Muertos" -- but not Christmas or Hanukkah, reports the Times.

Generally, a company can trademark the following things which distinguish their goods and services from the competition:

  • Words. Examples of unique trademarked words include "Tetris" and "Kleenex."
  • Phrases. Socialite and heiress Paris Hilton's catch phrase "That's hot" has been her trademark since 2007.
  • Images. The iconic castle that serves as the backdrop of the "Walt Disney Pictures" logo is also trademarked.

There is no legal barrier, other than common sense, to a company applying to trademark Christmas. In fact, one company was successful in trademarking "University of Santa Claus" for a Santa-training academy.

More Specific Trademarks Are Better

The problem with trademarking a name of an existing holiday is that any legal trademark needs to identify the source of the product and distinguish it from any other related products.

The film distributors of the original "Halloween" horror movie still have the word "Halloween" trademarked, but only as part of a specific movie logo for use in merchandise relating to the characters and themes of the movie and not the holiday.

No one knows for sure whether Disney could have pulled off the same "Hocus Pocus" with respect to trademarking Dia de los Muertos. But their public image will be better for letting this one go.

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