Tim Drake as Robin, the Boy Wonder. Image courtesy of DC Comics
When some people read that DC Comics was opposing a trademark registration by popular singer Rihanna, they thought that the reporter must have been some kind of Joker. There was no way that the comic book publisher would be that Two-Faced. But, though there have been at least half a dozen different individuals that have work the red and yellow costume of Batman’s sidekick, none of them have been a singer from Barbados, and none of them have spelled their superhero name “Robyn.” So, why would DC, publisher of comic books featuring Robin, the Boy Wonder, oppose the singer’s registration of the similar—yet not quite identical—word “Robyn?”
It’s not the work of a criminal mastermind. In fact, it might very well be good business strategy. “I didn’t find this surprising at all. This sort of thing happens on a daily basis,” says Lindy Herman, senior associate from the IP law firm Fish & Tsang.
In this case, the company tasked with promoting Rihanna’s brand, Roraj Trade, LLC, filed a registration for a service mark for “providing on-line non-downloadable general feature magazines.” DC Comics, is, of course, in the business of creating magazines, both in traditional print form and as digital comics (an increasingly popular mode of consumption for comics fans). It’s possible that, had Roraj filed registration for the term “Robyn” for use in, say, yoga pants or footwear, then DC might not have had an issue.
While all companies would like to believe their marks are famous, Herman notes that the truly famous marks are vigorously protected, noting that, say, Kodak would take great pains to protect its mark in relation to cameras or similar gear. “This is similar to what DC is doing with Robin,” she says. “The trademark owner has to police and enforce in order to maintain its rights, and some are aggressive about that.”
DC, it appears, is among the more aggressive defenders of its trademarks. A quick search of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) website shows that DC has opposed quite a few proceedings. Most recently, it opposed a software company that was seeking to register a program called “Gotham.” Looking back at the past few years, DC has filed opposition to companies looking to register marks that were similar to characters such as the Flash and Green Lantern, and companies that wanted to use the term “superhero” (a mark that DC shares with its comic book publishing rival, Marvel Comics).
Though Herman does not have the precognitive powers of certain DC Comics characters (such as Robin’s sometime ally in the Teen Titans, Lilith), she does anticipate a resolution to this situation that won’t require anyone getting locked up in Blackgate Prison.
“In this case, the parties will probably settle. DC will want Rihanna to put a limitation in the listing of goods, perhaps limiting it to magazines in the fields of beauty and fashion,” she says. If Roraj narrows the subject matter in the registration, it will become clearer that there are two very distinct sets of customers who would likely buy the two Robin/Robyn publications. “That is the way that the majority of TTAB matters play out. Companies carve out little territories, then they settle.”
Let’s just hope they don’t carve out those territories the way that, say, Gotham crime lords Carmine Falcone or the Penguin would do so. In that case, a Robin/Rihanna team-up might be called for. Now that would be both brave and bold.