Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Protecting Trademarks from Birthday-Party Thefts

But I told her, 'You can't have the real Dora. If you want the real Dora, call Nickelodeon.'

-Elvira Grau, owner of Space Odyssey USA, a party location

In Kathy Roseman, "Why Dora the Explorer Can't Come to Your Kid's Birthday Party," Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2008.

These comments came in response to a parent whose child-partyers were terribly disappointed that Grau's Dora-like costume was not close enough to the real thing. But Grau's semi-Dora-like appearance resulted from a fear of lawsuits. It seems that entertainment companies are increasingly trying to protect their trademarks even in the realm of children's parties. The firms claim they are worried that costumed characters may act badly and hurt the brand, or the free use may dilute the company's right to own the character. As a result, "companies that include Marvel Entertainment Inc., Scholastic Inc., and HIT Entertainment, have sent cease-and-desist letters, threatened lawsuits and in some cases received settlements from companies that market unauthorized character impersonators."

In our brand-saturated society, children often expect not generic clowns but characters that firms have cultivated in their minds for years. "But to sustain live-entertainment and theme-park revenues, most companies that own rights won't offer licensed, authentic costumes that can be worn by professional birthday-party entertainers. That has left parents out of luck." HIT Entertainment, which owns Barneyand Thomas the Tank Engine, says that it regularly monitoring birthday-party planning Web sites and parenting blogs with the aim of making sure that no one steals its trademarks. What if parents don't want to disappoint children who hope the party will be visited by Thomas? According to a company representative, there is still a way: buy paper plates and decorations at Hallmark, which is the authorized provider of paper products featuring Thomas and other of the company's licenced characters.

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