DC Comics Goes To UK High Court Over Trademark Granted To Unilever For 'Wonder Mum'

from the mums-the-word dept

Regular Techdirt readers will not be shocked when I say that DC Comics has a long and often ridiculous history when it comes to “protecting” its intellectual property. From trademark bullying over a barbeque joint, to trying to bully a Spanish soccer club for having a bat in its logo, up to waging a brief battle with the family of a dead child because they included the Superman logo on the headstone of the deceased: DC Comics will fight anything remotely like the use of its imagery or naming conventions.

And this isn’t just check the box stuff, with lawyers playing pretend about having to defend certain IP or risk losing it. For instance, in the UK, DC Comics has taken a failed opposition over a Unilever trademark for “Wonder Mum” to the High Court, claiming the IPO got it wrong. By way of background, Unilever sought approval for a trademark for “Wonder Mum” with the UKIPO in 2021. DC Comics filed an opposition, noting that its trademark for Wonder Woman covered many of the same product types as in the application and then arguing that the marks were too similar. You can see the full decision by the IPO embedded below, but it sides with Unilever. With an incredibly over-tortured analysis as to how similar the marks are, the IPO concludes:

A mother or mum has had one or more children, either because she gave birth to them or has brought up children, performing the role of their mother or mum. I consider that to characterise the word ‘mum’ as a subset of the word ‘woman’ and, on this basis, to conclude that they are highly similar is syllogistic reasoning. A woman is a human adult who was born female or who identifies as female. The word ‘woman’ does not tell one anything about relationships with others. In contrast and by definition, the word ‘mum’ means that that person has a particular relationship with another, or others. Its conceptual impact is one of a particular relationship with children, whereas the conceptual impact of ‘woman’ is that it informs others as to the gender identity of an adult human. Whilst both nouns denote a female, many women have had no children, but all mums have had or brought up children.

It went on from there, with the IPO ultimately deciding that there was no likelihood of confusion. The opposition therefore failed. Again, this is pretty common sense stuff. Nothing in Unilever’s use referenced Wonder Woman in any way at all. The idea here was to create a brand that celebrated hard-working moms. While Wonder Woman did apparently have a comic-child with Superman… you know what, I’m not going to even finish that stupid sentence because this is all very dumb.

And, yet, DC Comics wants to take that dumb now to the High Court.

DC is now appealing the decision at the High Court in London, claiming the IPO’s ruling was ‘perverse and unreasonable’.

Lawyers for the comic also argue that the cosmetics line would have damaging consequences and would allow ‘anyone to release a Wonder Woman movie or comic’, claiming ‘Mum’ is a subset of the word ‘Woman’.

That, of course, is not how copyright or trademark laws work. The IPO granting a trademark on “Wonder Mum” doesn’t suddenly make it legal for anyone to go make a Wonder Woman movie just by changing the name to Wonder Mum. That’s beyond silly. Silly enough that Unilever’s lawyers found the time to take a few shots of their own at DC Comics.

Denise McFarland, for Unilever, said there is no risk of the public muddling the two characters, particularly due to Wonder Woman’s ‘distinctive and unvarying features’ – including her minimalistic’ costume complete with high boots, a corset, and lasso and shield.

Ms McFarland added that, if DC’s arguments about ‘conceptual similarity’ were correct, then using phases such as ‘Wonder Aunt’ and ‘Wonder Niece’ would also have to be banned.

Frankly, I wouldn’t put it past DC Comics to try to do just that. But in the meantime, hopefully the High Court will slap DC Comics down yet again on this one.

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Companies: dc comics, unilever

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Comments on “DC Comics Goes To UK High Court Over Trademark Granted To Unilever For 'Wonder Mum'”

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PaulT (profile) says:

My immediate thought – here were some silly superhero type kids TV programs in the UK while I was growing up, including "Super Gran" and "Bananaman". Both titles were plays on the superhero name "Superman", but apart form that they bored little real similarity. As far as I’m aware, nobody from DC was suing them because, apart from the fact that people weren’t rabidly obsessed with owning every possible use of a common word like they did in the 80s, nobody would ever have confused them.

"would allow ‘anyone to release a Wonder Woman movie or comic’, claiming ‘Mum’ is a subset of the word ‘Woman’"

I know it’s not typical for lawyers to understand these things, but some things are actual facts, and the fact that mothers are a subset of women is not something that can be argued. Nor can you stop people from creating something in the same genre as something else just because their titles are vaguely similar.

Unless they a) decide to create a comic book character and b) start infringing on other copyrights and trademarks in the process, there is little you can, or should, be able to really do about it. "We imagine that at some point in the future someone might decide to do something in a way that offends us" should not be a reason to disrupt everyone else.

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