Batman Found a New Enemy: Furniture Trademark Registrations
DC Comics has a long history of popular superheroes, but Batman undoubtedly stands out among them. This means it’s no surprise the company would strive to protect intellectual property linked to the character. And after a recent ‘Dark Knight’ trademark registration, it became apparent that they’ll even take on furniture manufacturers.
The Dark Knight vs. Office Furniture
Batman has long been referred to as ‘The Dark Knight.’ This nickname became recognizable the world over when the first film in the Dark Knight series, Batman Begins, hit screens across the globe. It’s been over 15 years since that premier, but on April 27, 2021, a foreign company’s trademark registration for Dark Knight was published in the Official Gazette.
The company that filed this application, Anji Mingsheng Furniture Co., Ltd., mentions a founding date of 2000 on their website. In their application, they list International Class 20 and request registration for Dark Knight in association with armchairs and other furniture. After publication in the Official Gazette, DC Comics filed an opposition on the grounds of priority, likelihood of confusion and dilution.
While a trademark opposition based on the potential for consumer confusion often requires products or services to be similar, this isn’t always the case. If The Dark Knight has become famous and established a secondary meaning in consumers’ minds, it’s possible that any item featuring the term would create a likelihood of confusion.
As it turns out, though, this opposition goes beyond simply sharing the same name.
Is It Willful Infringement?
When trademark cases make their way to federal court, proving willful infringement is a big deal. If a judge sees infringing acts as deliberate, they’ll often increase the damages provided to the defendant. Since The Dark Knight literally broke world records, one might assume everyone knows about the trademark. An assumption isn’t enough, though, so DC Comics went a step further in their opposition.
In addition to claiming trademark dilution, potential consumer confusion and priority use, DC Comics included an image of the furniture retailer using Dark Knight on their products. The picture had more than just words, though, and this could turn into a major aspect of the case before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB).
This image features Dark Knight along with what DC Comics calls “a bat-like device featuring outspread wings.” The image certainly does seem similar to the sharp-angled Batman logo used in the DC Universe. Additionally, images are provided in the opposition of an armchair featuring the Batman icon. So while it may not seem like the Dark Knight is in the furniture business, it turns out Bruce Wayne is everywhere.
It may be difficult for Anji Mingsheng Furniture Co., Ltd to claim they didn’t intentionally commit trademark infringement. Even if the TTAB believes they did, though, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a lawsuit. If the board finds in favor of DC Comics, only the involved parties can take it the next step to federal court.
What Happens Next?
Now that DC Comics has filed an opposition against the company, the TTAB has set a schedule for discovery, disclosure and other events related to the trial. Anji Mingsheng Furniture Co., Ltd has until August 23, 2021 to file an answer. If they fail to do so and don’t request an extension, the TTAB will likely find in favor of DC Comics.
If the furniture manufacturer chooses to fight the opposition, though, a conservative estimate of the trial length could push the conclusion out to 2023. While there’s no guarantee that the comic book giant will prevail, the use of Dark Knight combined with the “bat-like” imagery doesn’t seem to bode well for the furniture manufacturer.
We’ll have to sit back and wait to see whether The Dark Knight rises yet again or if “the bat” has finally met his match.