from the ubiquitous-fucking-object dept
Long, long time readers here may remember that I have had something of a fascination in the past with subjects such as conspiracy theories and UFOs. Not that I’m much of a believer in the former, mind you, but I consider these forays into the occult to be wildly interesting on a variety of levels. Hell, 10 years ago Techdirt made 3 novels I wrote available, one of which absolutely dove into the UFO topic. UFO topics are everywhere in popular media and I would probably want to argue that the acronym is one of the most commonly used and understood acronyms of all time.
Which makes it all the more surprising that the USPTO, apparently, has decided in some instances to grant trademarks for the term “UFO” in popular media. That is currently on display as UFO Magazine has filed a lawsuit against Showtime Productions over the latter’s series titled, simply, UFO.
Showtime Networks has been hit with a trademark infringement lawsuit over UFO, a J.J. Abrams-produced docuseries exploring the possible existence of alien life and the government’s role in covering up sightings of unidentified flying objects, by the owners of a magazine of the same name.
UFO Magazine Inc. claims that the network’s show disrupts its plans to release a movie or TV show that would also be called UFO. It says that it’s long held a trademark for the word and that AMC ignored multiple requests to change the show’s name.
The details are in the filing, embedded below. And some of those details may be fairly important if Showtime doesn’t do what I think it should and seek to immediately invalidate this generic trademark. For instance, the filing contends that plaintiff has 2 registered trademarks for “UFO”. The one for “multimedia publishing of books, magazines, and electronic publications” was registered in 2011 and renewed in 2021. That one doesn’t seem to be particularly important, given that a television series would be a different thing. The other mark, for “entertainment in the nature of a television series and motion picture film series” was registered in 2007 and renewed in 2017. That mark seems to be one mainly at issue here.
The filing goes on to note that the latter mark’s “first commercial use” was in March of 2007. Here’s the thing, though: I can’t find any evidence of that. Like, at all. And in the filing, it goes on to state that UFO Magazine has “been in discussions for development of a UFO motion picture and/or television series for many years” and “as recently as September 2020, UFO Magazine, in a sponsorship role with the Virtual International UFO Congress, sought collaborators for development of a movie.”
What does that sound like to you? Because to me it sounds like the mark hasn’t been used in commerce at all. UFO Magazine may want to use it in commerce. It may also have developed many plans to do so. But I see no evidence that any actual commercial use has been achieved in what is now fifteen years. On top of that, my Google-fu is pretty decent and I can’t find an active UFO Magazine anywhere. Admittedly, I only searched for 30 minutes or so, but this doesn’t indicate some high-profile user of a trademark where Showtime Productions’ use is going to cause confusion.
And all of that is before we get to the question of whether the term “UFO” is too generic to be granted a valid trademark registration to begin with. I would certainly argue that it is generic. As likely would the creators and publishers of the film UFO in 2018. Or the 2022 Netflix Turkish film titled UFO. Or even the 1970s television series titled — you guessed it — UFO.
It’s not a term that should ever have been granted a trademark on its own. But, you know… the USPTO is probably staffed by aliens, so perhaps they’re biased.