Disney Withdraws Trademark Registration After Backlash

Walt Disney Company’s attempt to register a trademark for the phrase “Día de los Muertos,” or “Day of the Dead,” highlights that public feedback can sometimes trump intellectual property concerns.  After facing public backlash, the company withdrew the trademark application.

Disney initially sought to register the phrase in connection with a Pixar film currently called “The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dia de los Muertos.” According to the application, it planned  to use the phrase on themed merchandise, including toys and clothing.

Día de los Muertos is traditionally celebrated in Mexico and across Latin America. The focus of the holiday, which takes place November 1 and 2, is to celebrate the lives of deceased loved ones by building altars, holding processions, visiting cemeteries, and leaving offerings.

In addition to questions over whether Disney could legally register a trademark for a holiday, the application drew criticism from the Latino community. As CNN reports, tweets included “Tell @Disney not to trademark Day of the Dead. Culture is NOT for sale!” from Presente.org, a national organization that “exists to amplify the political voice of Latino communities.”

A petition on Change.org collected over 21,000 signatures. “Our spiritual traditions are for everyone, not for companies like Walt Disney to trademark and exploit,” wrote Grace Sesma, the petition’s creator. “I am deeply offended and dismayed that a family-oriented company like Walt Disney would seek to own the rights to something that is the rightful heritage of the people of Mexico.”

Disney recently announced that it has withdrawn its application. The company did not specifically indicate whether the decision was directly influenced by the response of social media. Rather, it simply stated that trademark protection was no longer needed because the title of the film was changed.

As this situation highlights, companies seeking to protect their brands through trademark registration must address a number of considerations. While IP protection is certainly a top concern, it not always the only one.

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– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +