'Brave' Trademarks Pose Problems for Disney-Pixar

Brave Merida Archery Contest - H 2012
2011 Disney/Pixar

Brave Merida Archery Contest - H 2012

Disney's new Pixar film Brave arrives in theaters Friday amid lingering trademark issues. For months, the Mickey Mouse studio has been at odds with both the Atlanta Braves baseball club and a seemingly naive trademark examiner over registrations relating to the film title. One of the disputes could be on the verge of being resolved.

As we reported last year, the Atlanta Braves oppose Disney's attempt to trademark "Brave." The ballclub has been around since 1871 but began calling themselves the Braves in 1912 when the team was based in Boston. The team took the moniker to Milwaukee in the 1950s and then Atlanta in 1966.

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In March, the Atlanta Braves formally filed a detailed opposition at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. The team believed it would be "damaged" by Disney's attempted registration, but humorously (and weirdly), the team was only objecting to a certain classes of goods: "Fruit preserves; fruit-based snack foods; jams; jellies; potato chips; processed nuts; milk and milk products excluding ice cream, ice milk and frozen yogurt; meat, poultry, processed fruits, processed vegetables; prepared or packaged meals consisting primarily of meat, fish, poultry or vegetables.”

In other words, if Disney wants to license Brave frozen yogurt, the ballclub argued that it would be damaged. The team notes that it sells food concessions at ball games.

No matter. Last week, an attorney for the team provided notice to the trademark office that the parties were engaged in settlement discussions and that the dispute should be suspended until August. The two sides have a draft agreement in place and are said to be ironing out some final issues. Disney didn't respond to a request for comment.

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That's not the only quirky trademark problem Disney has been facing on Brave.

On April 13, a trademark examiner issued a final refusal on Disney's attempt to trademark "Disney Pixar Brave." The reason? There was a likelihood of confusion on Pixar's registered mark over its company name. Yes, the trademark examiner seemed to have no idea that Disney now owns Pixar.

"The fact that the examining attorney made the Office Action final in light of the numerous other Disney trademarks that include the word Pixar blows my mind," says Catlan McCurdy, an IP lawyer at Winthrop & Weinstine. "Perhaps this should be a lesson for trademark attorneys to never assume the obvious when it comes to the USPTO and divulge any corporate relationships up front. Even the amazingly obvious relationships like Disney Pixar!"

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The final refusal applied to Disney's registration in connection with the production, presentation, distribution and rental of motion picture films.

Of course, Disney asked for a reconsideration. To show the obvious, Disney noted that the 2006 merger with Pixar received extensive media attention, included screenshots of Pixar's website and pointed to an SEC 10-K filing.

This month, the Trademark Office allowed an appeal to resume. Meanwhile, McCurdy tells us that the examiner who issued the final refusal was replaced shortly after Disney requested reconsideration.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner