While President Trump officially unveiled the flag of the country’s newest military unit, Space Force, Netflix has been working to secure trademark rights to the same name for its comedy series across the globe. Prior to the series’ launch in late May, the popular streaming company secured rights to the show’s logo in certain countries in Europe, as well as, Australia and Mexico. The Department of the Air Force has since filed its own United States trademark applications for registration of “SPACE FORCE,” both of which remain pending. Currently, the Trademark Electronic Search System indicates Netflix has not yet attempted to secure trademark rights to “SPACE FORCE” in this country.
In May of this year, President Trump signed the 2020 Armed Forces Day Proclamation, officially creating the United States Space Force. In so doing, President Trump indicated that the branch would be aimed at protecting strategic American space infrastructure, including communications, navigation, and spy satellites from adversaries. In signing this proclamation, the President also unveiled the official flag of the new military branch, which included the Space Force logo. According to the White House, the colors used on the logo are meant to symbolize the “vast recesses of outer space.” Moreover, the logo includes an elliptical orbit with three large stars, each of which are meant to represent the branches’ three-pronged purpose: organizing, training and equipping Space Force troopers.
Netflix first filed to register its “SPACE FORCE” trademark in January of 2019 for the Netflix series starring Steve Carell. Since then, the entertainment giant has succeeded in securing rights in Australia, Canada, Mexico, and the European Union for entertainment services in the nature of a comedic drama television series. Netflix has also secured registration of the mark as applied to calendars, greeting cards, clothing, Christmas tree decorations, dolls, exercise equipment, and other goods in Canada. Moreover, Netflix holds other applications for the mark as applied to additional goods and services in Australia, Europe, and Canada, all of which remain pending. Most recently, Netflix sought registration of the mark in Mexico for a wide range of goods, such as calendars, posters, books, clothing, Christmas tree decorations, toy figures, and numerous others. Despite these multiple international filings under “Netflix Studios,” no U.S. applications to “Netflix Studios” have been filed.
Beginning in March 2019, the Air Force filed two intent-to-use applications for the standard character mark for “SPACE FORCE.” Standard character marks are those which allow the applicant to register the words of the mark in any design, capitalization, or font. To date, the Air Force has not filed any trademark applications for the Space Force logo. However, standard character marks not only provide broader protection than design trademarks, they also constitute the broadest type of trademark protection permitted in the United States. These applications provide a large range of goods and services, including space vehicles, promoting public awareness of the need for the United States Space Force, educational services, clothing, metal and non-metal name plates, backpacks, belt buckles, beer mugs, and cigarette lighters.
Intent-to-use applications are filed when the applicant may or may not have already been using the mark in commerce prior to filing their application. Such applicants must file based on a good faith or bona fide intent to use the mark in commerce. Along these lines, the United States Patent and Trademark Office relies on the “first-to-use” concept in trademark registrations. Under this concept, the entity which first uses a given trademark in commerce then secures the rights to it. Oppositely, most other countries follow the “first-to-file” rule, essentially creating a race to the trademark office in order to secure rights. Thus, in the event a dispute arises between the Department of the Air Force and Netflix, the entity which first used the mark in commerce is likely to prevail.
Ironically, some have commented that the logo for the military’s newest branch appears confusingly similar to Star Trek’s Starfleet logo. Others have rebutted that imagery such as arrowheads, orbits, stars, planets, and swooshes have been used in space emblems long before either the Starfleet or the space force logo. However, interestingly, there exist more than twenty applications and/or registrations which include the phrase “space force.” For instance, one application was filed in August 2019 for computer software in the field of parking lot services. As another example, another “SPACE FORCE” intent-to-use application was filed in May of this year for dietary supplement drink mixes, clothing, and energy drinks. Others exist for various goods and services, including video games, toys/action figures, community service organizations, and writing instruments.
Two identical trademarks can coexist if they are used in wholly unrelated industries. In particular, trademark infringement exists when there is a likelihood that consumers will be confused, mistaken, or deceived as to the source of particular goods or services. In this manner, if consumers are likely to believe the United States military’s newest branch is connected to the Netflix series, trademark infringement exists. For infringement to exist in this case, consumers would have to be likely to believe that Netflix is sponsoring the military’s training of fighting astronauts or that the federal government produced a television series about it.