Titania v. She-Hulk: Trademark Infringement in the Marvel Universe



Graphic of the Briefing by the IP Law BlogIn this episode of The Briefing by the IP Law BlogScott Hervey and Josh Escovedo discuss a recent episode of Marvel’s “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” and the accuracy of a trademark infringement case featured on the show.

Watch this video here.

 

Show Notes:

Josh:
The last few weeks, every Thursday night in my household, we sit down to watch the latest episode of She-Hulk on Disney+. Full disclosure, we consume every bit of content that the Marvel cinematic universe puts out. I have been waiting a few months for the release of She-Hulk though, since the main character Jennifer Walters is an attorney and a graduate of UCLA School of Law, not unlike myself. But what I didn’t expect was for the content of a particular episode to become my choice of topic for this program. A few weeks ago, at the end of that week’s episode of She-Hulk, Jennifer Walters was served with a complaint by a process server at her home, and when she removed the pleading from its folder, Walters learns that she had been sued by an influencer from an earlier episode for trademark infringement. As you can imagine, at that point, I could not wait for the next episode of the show.

Scott:
Although we are obviously big fans of intellectual property, it isn’t often that a trademark dispute is at the center of a movie or television shows or plot. This instance in particular was unique because it constituted the focal point of the entire episode and walked the viewers through an abridged version of the process.

Josh:
The next episode picked up exactly where the prior episode had left off, with Walters being in possession of the recently served complaint. She went to her full-service law firm and retained an attorney who specialized in trademark litigation. At first, I was  little put off by a comment made by another one of the characters about how Walters should have already registered She-Hulk as a trademark because she should know that whoever files first gets the mark. Many of you probably already know why this irked me But if you don’t, it is because the United States is not a first to file country. Some countries are, but the United States focuses on first use, not first to file.

Scott:
These are the kind of things that would only bother an intellectual property aficionado. That said, it isn’t uncommon for television shows or movies to take certain liberties with things in the interest of creating a more interesting final product.

Josh:
That’s true, and while something like that wouldn’t necessarily bother me in most instances, when it’s something that you specialize in, I feel like it is a little harder to accept. That’s probably how many medical professionals feel when they watch shows like Grey’s Anatomy I’m sure. Anyway, my disappointment didn’t last long, because Walters subsequently filed a counter claim against Titania, the influencer who appropriated her name, seeking to enjoin her from utilizing She-Hulk in commerce, because Walters used the mark first. On that basis, Walters moved for summary judgment, which was heard the next day, which is at least 365 times faster than any motion for summary judgment I’ve ever filed or opposed.

Scott:
Although the show reflects an unrealistically streamlined legal process, it did manage to stay reasonably true to the requirements of such a dispute. Specifically, the remainder of the episode focused on Walters proving that she was the first to adopt and use the She-Hulk Mark.

Josh:
But it did once again stray from true trademark law in that Walters utilized her online dating profile, where she adopted the She-Hulk persona after failing to get any dates as Jennifer Walters, as evidence of her use of the SheHulk mark prior to Titania’s filing of a trademark application. Of course, such use would not suffice in a real trademark proceeding since such use does
not constitute use in commerce, unless her dating profile somehow served as marketing collateral for her superhero services, but I do not think that was the case. Frankly, this part made the dispute feel more like a right of publicity case than a trademark case, which is fine, but let’s call it what it is.

Scott:
I mean, you can’t really expect the most accurate portrayal of a trademark infringement dispute in an MCU legal-comedy on Disney+, can you?

Josh:
No, I suppose that’s true. I should just be happy that Marvel and Disney chose to combine a few of my favorite things in one piece of content, and honestly, I am. I enjoyed the episode for what it was, but for purposes of the Briefing, I thought it was interesting to contrast trademark law as presented in She-Hulk to trademark law as it exists in the United States.

Scott:
It definitely made for an interesting episode. Thanks for sharing.