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What’s Up, Doc? Bugs Bunny has an Upcoming Trademark Battle

What's up, Doc? Bugs Bunny and Trademark Infringement

If someone utters the words “What’s up, Doc?”, everyone immediately knows where the term originated. Since his first official appearance in 1940, Bugs Bunny has delighted children around the world. Thanks to a trademark application filed in 2019 and an opposition filed January 2020, though, the beloved bunny has landed square in the middle of a trademark battle.

“What’s Up, Doc?” Life Coach Services

In December 2019, an application was filed for “What’s up, Doc?” under International Trademark Class 41. It was submitted on an intent to use basis for “personal coaching services in the fields of self-empowerment” and similar services. Over a year later on January 13, 2021, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. filed a trademark opposition against the registration of the defendant’s requested trademark.

In its opposition, Warner Bros. claims that they have common law trademark rights in addition to registered rights to use the term. The company’s filing states that the fame established from their use of “What’s up, Doc?” – in addition to their registration under International Class 25 – gives them prior and superior rights to any that the applicant may claim.

Does a Likelihood of Confusion Exist?

While few would argue that “What’s up, Doc?” is forever linked to Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes, the question of whether a likelihood of confusion exists is important to consider. The rascally rabbit recently celebrated his 80th birthday, and while some might find this inspiring, could anything about the cartoon actually be confused with life coach services?

The filing from Warner Bros. directly states that “applicant’s services are related to the goods and services offered by opposer under opposer’s trademark.” It may seem difficult to reconcile how a cartoon character – even one with a valid trademark for t-shirts – could be confused with a life coaching service. Under the law, though, infringement may still occur.

Even if a likelihood of confusion didn’t exist, Bugs Bunny’s catchphrase has no doubt become famous. Near the end of their filing, Warner Bros. posits that dilution may occur through blurring if the applicant is allowed to use the famous trademark. In the end, dilution is just as valid of a reason to reject an application as a likelihood of confusion would be.

What Happens Next, Doc?

Since Warner Bros. filed a Notice of Opposition with the TTAB, this case isn’t heading to federal court at the moment. The USPTO gave the applicant until February 22 to answer the opposition. If the two parties decide to face off before the TTAB, the case could stretch well into 2022.  More likely, the applicant could also abandon the application or come to an agreement with Warner Bros.

While it may seem like this case is leaning one way, it’s important to not make early assumptions. Warner Bros. has been denied rights to famous quotes in the past. Regardless of whether the company maintains exclusive rights over “What’s up, Doc?”, though, Bugs Bunny will no doubt continue entertaining us for years to come.

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