The United States won the race to the moon but lost the initial race to space, and it seems the government might lose the rights to the Space Force trademark as well. Steve Carell’s Netflix show hit the streaming service last month, parodying the out-of-this-world new branch of the military that he announced in 2018.
Basically every announcement for the very real military unit has been met with jokes, from the very familiar logo to the uniforms these “spacemen” will be wearing whenever they actually get some action. But in the Netflix series, the branch is launching operations and actually trying to put “boots on the moon,” as they say many times in the 10 episodes of its first season.
That progress, though fictional, has actually created an interesting problem for the United States government. According to Hollywood Reporter, several trademarks for Space Force might actually be awarded to Netflix because the show exists and has made greater strides in solidifying ownership of the name over the actual government:
But his administration has proven dovish when it comes to protecting the “Space Force” name itself. On May 29, Netflix premiered its comedy series Space Force, from The Office showrunner Greg Daniels and star Steve Carell. The U.S. military has done nothing to stop the streamer’s satirical take, nor could it thanks to the First Amendment. But less noticed is how, around the globe, the streaming giant has outmaneuvered the U.S. government to secure trademark rights to “Space Force” in Europe, Australia, Mexico and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Air Force merely owns a pending application for registration inside the United States based on an intent to use. Meaning that the feds have gotten a place in line but no confirmed trademark rights thus far.
The issue is complicated, and also not necessarily that big of a deal depending on what the government plans to do with Space Force. As THR pointed out, a Netflix show about a mostly fictional military branch and actual astronauts getting trained to head into space can happen simultaneously without too much conflict. Still, licensing for merchandise and other concerns may get iffy, should Space Force develop into an entity of a similar size to, say, the Marines or Air Force while the Netflix show continues to exist.
Whether there will be a legal battle over the trademark isn’t certain right now, but it does present some interesting First Amendment issues. The piece notes that the video game Call of Duty actually won a case where the government sued for the use of Humvees in the war-based game, and since the show was both first to filing a lot of these trademarks and is also much more established as A Thing, it would be an uphill battle for the government, should they try to get aggressive:
But aggression on the trademark front hasn’t been a hallmark of the Department of Defense under President Trump — and the best place to find proof of that may be with respect to Netflix’s “Space Force” trademark registrations. Although the United States operates on what’s called a “first-to-use” trademark registration system, where priority is based on actual use in commerce rather than who gets to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office first, many other countries operate on a “first-to-file” basis. Records show that Netflix was submitting applications for “Space Force” around the world as early as January 2019. In other words, the Department of Defense was caught sleeping.
Given the mostly tepid response to the show’s first season, it’s honestly unclear if both Space Forces intend to stick around long enough to make this all worthwhile. But you can never be sure how willing certain world leaders are for a legal fight, can you?
(Via Hollywood Reporter)