California Intellectual Property Blog


Just Weeks Before Halloween, the Gremlins Are in Trademark Court

Gremlins trademark dispute with Tiny Gremlin LLC

When the film Gremlins came out in 1984, it introduced a generation to the novelty of comedy horror movies. Its popularity also spawned a sequel along with global earnings of over $200 million. Over 37 years later — and just weeks before Halloween — alleged misuse of the monster’s name has resulted in a trademark dispute before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB).

Owner of Gremlins Claims Trademark Infringement

While the word “gremlin” was in use long before the film franchise emerged, the Warner Bros. movie release made it a household name. The characters are highly recognizable, and even though it’s been nearly 40 years since the film’s debut, you can still find costumes of the characters in abundance on Halloween.

In addition to the fame Gremlins has garnered, Warner Bros. also has trademark protection over the term. The company cites this fame and its prior registration in a notice of opposition it recently filed against the “Tiny Gremlin” trademark application. This application was submitted by Tiny Gremlin LLC on November 17, 2020 to brand their online retail store.

In response to this filing, Warner Bros. filed a trademark opposition on October 7, 2021. In its opposition, Warner Bros. claims that a likelihood of confusion would occur if Tiny Gremlin LLC received a trademark registration for the term. The filing additionally states that dilution by blurring would likely occur if the USPTO grants rights to the applicant.

While some may view this as a cut-and-dry example of trademark infringement, the TTAB might not see it that way. After all, can someone claim exclusive trademark rights over a mythical creature that was around long before either party to the case used it in commerce?

Gremlins vs Tiny Gremlin: A Halloween Mystery

The opposition notice filed by Warner Bros. focuses largely on the potential for a likelihood of confusion. Their claim is that registration of the Tiny Gremlin mark would lead consumers to believe that there was some connection between the two companies. The opposition explains why this could prove costly to the movie production company:

“[Warner Bros.] has licensed the rights for various goods and services bearing the GREMLINS and GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH marks… As a result of this use and promotion of Opposer’s Marks and the success of the Gremlins films, Opposer’s Marks have come to be recognized as identifying goods and services of Opposer exclusively…”

This is certainly a sound argument. If you ask most people what they think of when they hear the term “gremlin,” the film will likely be at the top of their mind. Their filing fails to mention, however, that the word was in use long before the film hit theaters. Of course, this doesn’t mean they can’t hold rights over the term if its use has become synonymous with their brand.

Even though the film Gremlins features characters very similar to the mythological figures, Warner Bros. has received trademark rights over the term. Additionally, it was just a few months ago when their opposition against another company’s use of the word was sustained. While there’s no way to know for sure what the TTAB will decide, Warner Bros. has found success in these cases in the past.

What Happens Now?

Now that Warner Bros. has filed their opposition, Tiny Gremlin has until November 16, 2021 to submit an answer. If they fail to do so, the TTAB will find in favor of the movie studio. If the company chooses to fight back against the opposition, the case could carry on into April 2023. This means we could see Gremlins in a trademark dispute for several Halloweens to come.

Even though Tiny Gremlins deals mostly in roleplaying dice, it’s hard to overlook the tremendous goodwill the Gremlins franchise has built over many decades. Of course, some may see this attempt as comparable to claiming rights over terms like “vampire” or “werewolf” — something that has actually occurred. If past decisions are any indication, though, Warner Bros. may have legitimate rights over the mythical creature.

We’ll have to sit back and watch as Gremlins battles it out with Tiny Gremlin in court. Is there any better way to start the Halloween 2021 season?


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