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No superheroes allowed!

Since 1981, comic book companies Marvel and D.C. have jointly owned a registered trademark for the term “super heroes” in connection with goods and services including, among other things, comic books, iron-on transfers, pencils and notebooks. Some argue that the joint ownership of this mark by competitors is invalid because it violates the principle that trademarks should indicate a single source, while others argue that trademarks can be jointly owned despite this foundational principle of trademark law. Regardless of the mark’s validity, DC and Marvel have used it to scare off others’ use of the term - for example, the critically acclaimed comic book “Super Hero Happy Hour” had to change its name to “Hero Happy Hour.” No word on whether the Sci Fi channel’s impending “Who Wants to be a Superhero” reality show is going to face any problems (although it appears to fall outside of the scope of Marvel and DC’s listed goods and services).

It seems to us that this mark would not pass muster if challenged in court, if for no other reason then the fact that term has become generic. However, unless and until the mark is invalidated, we suggest that you refer to superheroes as “magnificent, incomparable, exalted, popular, principled and prestigious protagonists.” Kinda’ catchy.