On May 2, 2011, an elite group of U.S. Navy Seals, unofficially known as Seal Team 6, conducted a top secret mission that killed Osama bin Laden. On May 3, 2011, Disney Enterprises, Inc. filed three trademark applications for the mark SEAL TEAM 6. The Disney trademark applications cover a variety of goods and services, including toys, games, Christmas stockings and ornaments, clothing, footwear, and entertainment and educational services.
Disney is attempting to capitalize on this mark that has become famous due to the work of others, namely the U.S. Navy. Disney is not currently using the mark on any of these goods or services, but rather claims an intent to use the marks in the future. Whether Disney will be able to obtain registrations for these marks is still unclear. Disney must pass the requirements of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (Trademark Office), as well as overcome any opposition by a third party that feels they are being damaged if the marks were to register.
The Trademark Office usually examines trademark applications in view of other previously-filed trademark applications and registrations. As of May 3, 2011, the only marks that appear similar are PADI SEAL TEAM for scuba diving services and printed materials. These prior registrations are unlikely to prevent the applications from proceeding.
If the applications are approved by the Trademark Office, it will be interesting whether the Navy files an opposition against these trademark applications. The Navy has not opposed similar trademark applications in the past, such as the PADI SEAL TEAM marks. Also, in 2002, NovaLogic, Inc. filed an intent of use application for the mark SEAL TEAM 6 for computer and video game software. NovaLogic later filed a second application in 2004 for the mark SEAL TEAM 6 for action figures and accessories. Both of these applications were approved by the Trademark Office, were not opposed by the Navy, but were abandoned prior to registration for failure of NovaLogic to file a statement of use.
The Navy may feel differently now considering the recent publicity of their Seal Team 6 and the blatant attempt of Disney to profit from such fame. To oppose the applications, the Navy would claim that the Disney marks create a false connection with them. To prove a false connection, the Navy would need to prove: (1) the marks are the same as, or a close approximation of, the name or identity previously used by the Navy; (2) the marks uniquely and unmistakably identify the Navy; (3) the Navy is not connected with the activities performed by Disney under the marks; and (4) the fame or reputation of the Navy is such that, when the marks are used with Disney’s goods and services, a connection with the Navy would be presumed. The Navy would be able to meet each of these criteria.
Another indication that the Navy may take offense is they recently filed their own trademark application for the name SEAL TEAM. This trademark application was filed on May 16, 2011 (13 days after the Disney applications) and is for a collective mark for teams that develop and execute military missions involving special operations strategy, doctrine, and tactics. This application would cover all eight of the Navy Seal Teams that are stationed throughout the United States (Seal Teams 1-5, 7, 8, and 10). Coincidentally, the Navy does not officially have a Seal Team 6 as this group was dissolved in 1987 and later renamed The United States Naval Warfare Development Group.
For now, the ball is in the court of the Trademark Office.