Jan 12 2009
Fevered rumors occasionally surface that Marvel and/or DC have copyrighted the word “superhero” and plan to sue anyone that uses them. That’s obviously bunk. However, a more credible blogger claims that Marvel and DC have jointly trademarked the term superhero and are the only ones that can use it when naming a comic book. It is true that they have the trademark, but there is virtually no chance that it would hold up in court. (Whether or not your publisher is actually willing to risk a case is another question, though… it’s cheaper to come up with a new title than go to court).
1. “Superhero” has unquestionably entered common usage.
2. Superhero is a brand-neutral term. According to one source, “one of the main attributes of a trademark is that it helps the consumers to identify a product of a particular company and to distinguish it from other identical or similar products provided by competitors.” No one uses the term “superhero” to distinguish Marvel characters from comparable Dark Horse characters. To the contrary, independent characters like Hellboy, Jake Long and Sailor Moon are commonly described as superheroes even though they aren’t DC or Marvel.
3. According to Webster Dictionary, the term “superhero” predates the birth of DC’s parent company (National Allied Publications) by 17 years and Marvel’s parent company (Timely Comics) by 22. This isn’t highly relevant, but it further suggests that the superhero term has never been strongly related to the DC or Marvel brand.