Monday Musings: “Marvel’s” Hela?

Another old social media post I liked and wanted to keep around. This post is from summer 2020 though, so it’s only a couple months old at the time I’m posting it here. I think the only thing you need to know going into this that isn’t explained is that Hasbro is a toy company who makes toys for both their own properties like Transformers, GI Joe, and My Little Pony, as well as licensed toys based on properties such as Marvel Comics and Star Wars.

In regards to action figure boxes like this

…someone on social media asked this question…

How come some figure names start with Marvel’s and others don’t?

…to which I responded:

So I’m not a lawyer (and therefore this may be slightly inaccurate), but I am a big Transformers fan, and that’s a franchise where character re-branding is very common and I also wanted to know why, so I’ve done some research into this. And basically, it’s because Hasbro made mistakes in the past.

Unlike what other have claimed it’s not an issue of copyright, it’s an issue of TRADEMARK. “Copyright” is the “right” to make a “copy” of a particular work, “trademark” is owning a name or “mark” in a particular field, or “trade.”

It’s basically impossible to own trademarks on certain things, such as common words and public domain characters. You can’t own “Dracula,” for example, because he’s now a public domain character. You also can’t own a regular word like “Scorpion” or “Hook.” But some characters are so synonymous with common words they can be claimed as trademarks, which is why “Venom” doesn’t get any sort of prefix added to the name.

So, in this case, since nobody can own the trademark to “Hela,” because she’s a mythological, public domain character. So by adding “Marvel’s Hela,” it makes it distinct from any other Hela toys out there. Otherwise, anybody could make a Hela toy of a similar design (black/green body suit, weird antler hat, etc.)

Hasbro didn’t pay much attention to trademark law in the 1980s outside of the umbrella brands — “Transformers,” “G.I. Joe,” etc., but then other companies went and filed for trademarks on some of those character names, or the amendments to trademark law disallowed common words. That’s why you’ll see “Autobot Jazz” on all of his merch now, but “Optimus Prime” remains unchanged — Hasbro owns the Marks for “Autobot” and “Optimus Prime” in the Toys trade (as well as many others, though apparently not cell phones), but can’t own “Jazz,” because it’s a common word. “Hot Rod” may be one of the worst cases for Hasbro, as it’s also not legal to trademark a word for a thing if that word is what the thing is. For example, an apple company cannot trademark the word “apple,” but a computer company sure could because why would you call a computer an Apple? Since the Transformer character Hot Rod turns into a, well, hot rod, Hasbro can’t legally call him that. It would be like having a toy truck named “big truck.” That’s why all the Hot Rod toys in the 21st century have been named stuff like “Rodimus Minor.”

This also led to some amusing changes on some GI Joe character names, like General Hawk becoming “General Abernathy,” and The Baroness becoming “Chameleon” for a few years, until they could re-secure particular naming rights.

And, BECAUSE Hasbro has had such issues with trademark law, they’re now OVERLY cautious about it, ESPECIALLY with licensed characters that they don’t actually own. Can you imagine how pissed Marvel/Disney would become if a trademark ever went into dispute because the company making their toys didn’t label it properly? That’s gonna be a huge lawsuit right up Hasbro’s collective ass.

And that’s why the box says, “Marvel’s Hela.”

(Interestingly, there’s one big exception, where Hasbro just straight gave up trying to secure the name “Bumblebee,” so you’ll notice there’s no ® or ™ symbol next to his name on any Bumblebee-branded merchandise.)

(I also think it’s funny that any toys of Marvel’s Firestar include the “Marvel’s” prefix, but then Hasbro changed the name of their Transformers character named Firestar to “Novastar.”)

To which the original poster responded:

This was a much better answer than I ever imagined i would get. Thanks, that makes perfect sense.

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