Perhaps more than any other movie or movie series in history, the Star Wars franchise has heavily influenced popular culture. Several generations have grown up with the characters and new generations will continue to do so as new movies are planned for release. That is why it is not too surprising that a brewery in upstate New York named Empire, chose to call one of its beers “Strikes Bock”. Empire Strikes Bock is a clever name for a beer, but after Empire filed a trademark application on the name, it drew the ire of Lucasfilm. The Star Wars Studio recently filed an opposition to the trademark application alleging permitting registration of the mark for ale will create a likelihood of confusion and will dilute Lucasfilm’s trademark rights in it’s THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK mark.
In early 2014, Empire filed an “in-use” trademark application on “Empire Strikes Bock”. It claimed use of the name in commerce back to 2004. Which makes one wonder why Lucasfilm did nothing about the mark for the past ten years. In all likelihood, Lucasfilm didn’t know about Empire’s use of “Strikes Bock” until it was brought to its attention by the trademark application. But now that it is aware of the brand, it’s bringing the force. It took quick action to file an opposition to the trademark application. The Star Wars brand and merchandising have been wildly profitable and no doubt, Lucasfilm wants to preserve its lucrative brand.
Lucasfilm argued in its opposition that Empire Strikes Bock is identical to its trademark on The Empire Strikes Back, other than the word THE and one other letter. It also noted that Lucasfilm has a long history with food and beverage, including wine. Lucasfilm further argued that because consumers have become accustomed to seeing the Lucasfilm trademark with alcoholic beverages, there is a strong likelihood of confusion with Empire’s beer brand. In addition, it wasn’t just the name that Empire was borrowing from Star Wars, it was also the famous opening credits crawl that Empire uses to market the beer. Empire argues that the beer has been produced for some time and no one to this point has been confused about the source of the brew. However, with Lucasfilm’s high powered legal team and the notoriety of the Star Wars brand, this will be an uphill battle for Empire.
If you are thinking about parodying an existing brand or creating an entirely new brand, it is important to be familiar with trademark law.