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Darth Vader Spielfigur

Force and merchandising: Intellectual Property Rights around "Star Wars”

Fans around the world celebrate Star Wars Day on May 4. Why on this date? Well, the pronunciation of the date "May the 4th" is very similar to the beginning of what is probably the most popular sentence in the space saga, "May the force be with you".

The play on words was supposedly made for the first time on the occasion of Margaret Thatcher's first day as Prime Minister on 4 May 1979. For about ten years, May 4th has established itself as a celebration of the worldwide fan community. The city of Los Angeles, on the other hand, celebrates May 25 as Star Wars Day in memory of the premiere of the first film in the series there in 1977.

Since then, Star Wars has become the world's most commercially successful film series. The socio-cultural influence of the space fairy tale can hardly be overestimated; its popularity surpasses even James Bond or Harry Potter by far. Almost everyone in the world knows the stories about the villain Darth Vader, Princess Leia, the Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker or the wise Master Yoda.

With intellectual property rights to billions in sales

Drawing of Master Yoda toy figure (US 265754S)

Drawing of Master Yoda toy figure (US 265754S)

And what does all this have to do with the German Patent and Trade Mark Office? A whole lot. According to estimates, the merchandising around the films has so far generated around 30 billion dollars in sales. And this was made possible by a clever IP strategy of its creator George Lucas.

The director, author and producer met the film studio at his fee in 1977, but secured full merchandising rights. When the unprecedented success of the first film became apparent, Lucas operated with all suitable industrial property rights: Among other things, he had toy figures of the protagonists patented and their names protected as trademarks.

The villain´s word mark

X-Wing-Fighter, US254080S

X-Wing-Fighter, US254080S

The figure of Master Yoda, for example, has been registered for patent under the number pdf-Datei US265754S. Darth Vader is registered as a three-dimensional Union trademark (005896601). The name of the villain is also protected under the word mark "Lord Darth Vader" (register no. 990370); his opponent Obi-Wan Kenobi is registered as word mark no. Nr. 39609975.

The famous Star Wars logo was, of course, protected as a combined word/figurative trademark (971996).

The studio also secured intellectual property rights for toys

Bounty hunter "Boba Fett" (US264109S)

Bounty hunter "Boba Fett" (US264109S)

For some of the most popular figures and devices Lucas couldn't secure the property rights: the design for the cute, beeping robot "R2D2" was registered by Studio Twentieth Century Fox ( pdf-Datei US251628S), also for the "X-Wing" spaceship of the rebels ( pdf-Datei US250480S). The studio also registered the design of the Empire's small hunting spaceships ("Toy spacecraft", pdf-Datei US254081S).

Well protected and galactically successful

"Jabba the Hut", Patent US277211S

"Jabba the Hut", Patent US277211S

In global marketing Lucas did not fail to secure the German pronunciation of his characters, for example as the word mark "Erzwo-Decwo R2D2"(971997).

Even grotesque or cute side characters, which can only be seen for a few moments in the films, have been patented as toy figures, such as Jabba the Hutt ( pdf-Datei US 277211S) or a cute little blue animal called Max Rebo ( pdf-Datei US 277883S). Not to forget the imaginative machines such as the elephant-like combat robot "AT-AT"( pdf-Datei US266777S), with which millions of children reenacted the fight of the "dark side" against the Jedi.

Well-protected by industrial property rights in numerous countries, Lucas and his company Lucasfilm brought an immense flood of merchandising products onto the market, which generated far higher revenues than the already galactically successful films.

Bad feeling? Branded!

Toy "Max Rebo", US277883S

Toy "Max Rebo", US277883S

The Star Wars creators have remained true to this successful strategy to this day:

The title of the newest forthcoming film "The Rise of Skywalker" was registered as a word mark (EM 018051545), just as the last one (THE LAST JEDI, 016429656). Lucasfilm went one step further when it recently even registered a saying as a trademark: "I'VE GOT A BAD FEELING ABOUT THIS", a sentence that appears as "running gag" in all films, was registered as Union trademark as of March 1, 2018 (word mark 017480435).

Lucasfilm, who has been part of Disney for several years, has not only perfected the commercial exploitation of his films, but is also constantly pushing the cinematic trick technique forward. In recent years, the company has registered numerous patents in the field of computer graphics/CGI, for example pdf-Datei „Three-dimensional motion capture“ (1,05 MB), pdf-Datei „Computer-generated image of a creature“ oder pdf-Datei „Animation data transfer between geometric models and associated animation models“ (1,71 MB)."
The newest entry in Lucasfilm´s list of patents is "Determining control values of an animation model using performance capture" ( pdf-Datei US10147219B2 (2,88 MB)). Lucasfilm holds a proud 296 entries in the patent database of the DPMA DEPATISnet (as of April 16, 2019).

Use the force!

"Animation data transfer", illustration from US9858700B2

"Animation data transfer", illustration from US9858700B2

The fact that there is a great deal of research and development in the films is also evident to them. All Star Wars films have always set a new level in digital trick technology.

Critics are sometimes unaware that the makers place too much emphasis on visual effects, technical tricks and excessive merchandising. One could answer this in Bavarian: "Wer ko, der ko"(which roughly translates as: "If you can do it, then do"). Or, as Master Yoda would probably say: "Great possibilities the Force you gives. Use them you must!"

Last updated: 13 November 2019 


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