Netflix Beat the U.S. Military to the 'Space Force' Trademark for Merchandise
As of December, the U.S. officially has six branches of military, following the decision to predesignate the Air Force Space Command as the U.S. Space Force.
It was sort of hard to take seriously at first, especially since the government crowd-sourced logo ideas. And now, having a satirical Netflix show starring Steve Carrell called “Space Force” has added even more humor to the conversation.
It’s also added some legal tension, too.
No, the show isn’t going to have to change its name. That’s protected by satire rules. But if they want to make merchandise related to the show, it’s going to come down to who can get their hands on the “Space Force” trademark for global merchandising first.
Nothing like a good old-fashioned Space Force Race, right?
The wildest part is that Netflix might actually win.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix has already secured the “Space Force” trademark in Europe, Australia, Mexico and elsewhere. Netflix reportedly filed the trademark for “Space Force” for merchandise around the world in January 2019.
“Meanwhile, the Air Force merely owns a pending application for registration inside the United States based on an intent to use,” the story says. “Meaning that the feds have gotten a place in line but no confirmed trademark rights thus far.”
For the most part, Netflix isn’t going to step on the military’s toes. But the importance of the trademark becomes more prevalent when it comes to merchandise that could be confusing. Let’s say a replica Space Force uniform from the show, for instance, which some untrained eyes might not know is a promotional product. Maybe Netflix designs challenge coins for a (fictional) manned trip to Mars.
The precedent for the Space Force has been around for decades, but as THR laid out, the U.S. government and military branches have been relaxed about trademark battles until recently.
For many years, the U.S. government was lax when it came to registering trademarks for its military assets and didn't put up much of a fight when others made claims. For example, Paramount Pictures applied to register "JAG" six times between 1995 and 2005—spanning the time that its CBS series was on the air—and the applications were not opposed by the government.
Then, in 2007, the Defense Department issued a directive establishing a branding and trademark licensing office, Foreign Policy magazine once reported.
Soon thereafter, applications for registrations exploded as the military gobbled up everything from "Special Forces" to "NORAD tracks Santa." In 2011, the Navy even got around to finally registering JAG-related marks. For one brief moment, the issue of military trademarks earned significant attention. That would be in May 2011, when, days after the death of Osama bin Laden, Disney applied for a registration on "Seal Team 6"—and not just for entertainment, either. Disney wanted a registration for clothing, footwear and headwear. Within weeks, upon public outcry, Disney abandoned its pursuit.
That trademark diligence seemed to wane during the current administration, as evidenced by this dropped ball.
An issue that Netflix could face is the difference in intellectual property laws around the world. If, say, the military decided to pull rank over Netflix in another country that doesn’t have fair use laws like in the U.S., it might not be worth picking a fight with the U.S. military. Netflix would probably lose that one.
But, in the meantime, it seems like Netflix sort of has carte blanche to make as much “Space Force” merchandise as it wants. It might want to do it quickly, though.