Hasbro V. DC Comics: Battle for the Bumblebee

A legal showdown begins over the merchandising rights of toys that are named “Bumblebee.” Photo Credit: Google Images

Warner Bros. and Hasbro are getting ready for a legal showdown over the merchandising rights of toys that are named “Bumblebee.” Back on August 28th, Hasbro filed a lawsuit accusing DC Comics and Warner Bros. of trademark infringement for their use of the name “Bumblebee” for the toys of the DC Superhero Girls character, Bumblebee, and the potential confusion that could arise due to her sharing the name with the Transformers’ Bumblebee. One is an African-American teen superhero who, dressed as a bumblebee, is a tech genius, has the ability to shrink and has super strength, while the other is a sentient alien-robot that can transform into a bright yellow sports car.
While it may seem silly to argue that people could get these two confused, it’s more complicated than it seems. Quick backstory: the DC Comics character, Bumblebee, was created back in 1977 in the pages of Teen Titans (although she didn’t get the hero name until a couple years later) while the Transformers’ Bumblebee didn’t show up until 1984.
Seems simple, right? It should be, but then comes 2015. In April 2015, DC announced a female-focused line of comics and TV shows aimed at young girls called DC Superhero Girls. Then, in July of 2015, Hasbro filed for a trademark on the name “Bumblebee” in relation to “toy action figures, toy vehicles and toy robots convertible into other visual toy forms,” according to the trademark. It is officially registered in December of 2015.
Back to DC, they launched the Superhero Girls TV show in October of 2015 and since then has spun them off into a variety of toys, comics, dolls, and even Legos. It’s an interesting situation to say the least, since Hasbro does have the trademark on all toy action figures that contain the word “Bumblebee,” of which the DC Bumblebee toys, produced by Mattel, are a form of.
Part of the suit, as published in Variety, states, “defendants’ and/or their licensees’ use of the Accused Mark is likely to cause consumers mistakenly to believe that the Accused Goods emanate from or are otherwise associated with Hasbro. Such improper use of the Accused Mark by Defendants and/or their licensees is likely to cause confusion, mistake and/or deception among the public as to the source of the Accused.”
In easier to understand language, Hasbro is alleging that their Bumblebee is significantly more popular than the DC Comics character and that, as such, any toys featuring her with the name Bumblebee, would cause confusion to the general public. To prove this, according to the same Variety article, Hasbro is using an IGN listicle of “The Top 25 Transformers,” of which Bumblebee is #4.
It is obvious that Hasbro wants to prevent DC from selling toys with Bumblebee on it, possibly because of the upcoming Bumblebee standalone movie, which is set to release in 2018, but what is less obvious is why they filed the trademark when they did. There was plenty of time for Hasbro to file a trademark for their fourth favorite transformer if, as Hasbro alleges, they have been selling Bumblebee toys since 1983. It was only after the announcement of DC Superhero Girls and popular reaction to it that they filed for a trademark.
Was it just an obstructionist move or was it truly in anticipation of their movie? Only time, and the court case, will tell.

Elias Rosner is a Senior English/Creative Writing Major here at Goucher. When he's not stalking the Goucher woods seeking serenity, he's writing feverishly in the hopes something interesting will be said. He's always on the lookout for a good puzzle or story and is still not used to writing about himself in the third person.

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