DC and Marvel take defense of 'super hero' trademark to U.K.

A British author is accusing DC Comics and Marvel of "banning the use of the word superhero" after he received notice that the publishers are opposing his attempt to trademark the title of his advice book Business Zero to Superhero.

“I was very shocked," Graham Jules told BBC Radio. "I’m a new author and small business, and I’m now in the position of fighting or scrapping the entire book." The Mail on Sunday picked up on his story, running it with a headline that's both cliche and misleading: "Zap! You can't say 'superhero'."

As many comics fans know, and Jules quickly learned, DC and Marvel have since 1979 jointly owned the trademark for "super hero" and "super heroes," covering a range of products, from comic books and playing cards to pencil sharpeners and glue. Their renewal of that mark in 2006 drew widespread attention, as well as scrutiny from those who question whether such a term should be allowed to be registered.

Unlike copyrights, trademarks have to be defended; otherwise, the owner runs the risk of the term becoming generic -- some argue that "super hero," in all of its forms, already has -- and, thus, losing the trademark. (CBR's Brian Cronin wrote a handy Superhero Trademark FAQ when the issue arose in 2006.)

And so, as The Mail notes, DC and Marvel also filed an opposition to an attempt by U.K. diet-supplement company Bio-Synergy to renew its trademark of the slogan "Fuel the super-hero inside." While the original registration in 2005 escaped the attention of the publishers' lawyers, the renewal didn't: The United Kingdom's Intellectual Property Office on March 21 revoked Bio-Synergy's registration and ordered the company to pay Marvel and DC the equivalent of $1,672 to help cover their costs of opposing the application. The publishers argued Bio-Synergy's registration hadn't been put to "genuine use," and founder Daniel Herman was unable to prove otherwise.

"I think its bang out of order," Herman told the newspaper. "But now I think I should have used an expert to argue my claim rather than try to do it myself."

In a similar scenario, American small-press publisher Ray Felix last year publicized his fight with DC and Marvel over "super hero," insisting the publishers had overstepped the bounds of their trademark in opposing his registration of his comic series A World Without Superheroes.

In 2004 small-press publisher GeekPunk changed the name of its series Super Hero Happy Hour to Hero Happy Hour following objections by DC and Marvel; in 2009, the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board sustained their opposition to the registration of "Super Hero" for a line of suntan lotions, sun block and beauty creams.

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