Monday, May 16, 2011


Consider this a legal notice: in the coming days, your humble correspondent plans to trademark the terms "U.S. Air Force," "United States Air Force," and "USAF, " along with the service logo (assuming it's still available). Once the paperwork is filed, General Schwartz, Secretary Donley and the rest of those blue-suiters will kindly cease-and-desist from using those terms (and the logo) without my permission. Of course, the service can have them back--for a price.

Call me greedy, but I'm not the only one. In fact, I was inspired by the good folks at Disney, who filed a trademark on "SEAL Team 6" just two days after members of the Navy special operations unit killed Osama bin Laden. According to press reports, the Disney filing covers clothing, footwear, headgear, toys, games and "entertainment and educational services." Look for the "SEAL Mission Adventure Ride" to make its debut at Disney theme parks just as soon as the "imagineers" can jin one up.

Oddly enough, I was at a Disney property when the trademark filing was announced. A fellow military retiree didn't really see anything wrong with the move, opining that Disney "does a lot for the armed forces." You can say that about a lot of companies--and with the exception of The Mouse, they aren't trying to cash in on the exploits of our military heroes.

Of course, there's nothing illegal about Disney's move. You could even call it shrewd. But it also strikes me as incredibly tone-deaf. A company that cultivates its pubic image so carefully made a crass money grab, with little regard for the possible public-relations fall-out. And, as the execs at Disney understand, image means a lot in the entertainment business. Families who flock to the company's theme parks and resorts, buy tickets for its movies and watch its TV channels might have second thoughts--if they thought Disney was ripping off the troops.

That's why I'm surprised the company didn't announce that a chunk of its SEAL profits would be donated to various charities supporting special forces operators who are killed or maimed in the line of duty. Apparently, Disney didn't have enough time to work out a partnership before filing the trademark. Evidently, the suits were afraid someone might beat them to the punch. You can also surmise that Disney sees another jackpot in the SEAL Team 6 brand, and isn't anxious to share the profits.

Equally stunning is the public reaction--or lack thereof. So far, I haven't see a single op-ed column or TV commentary condemning the trademark filing, or asking about Disney's support for the brave men who made this latest windfall possible. And no one is talking about boycotting Disney over this apparent slight. But that tends to happen when less than 1/2 of one percent of the nation's citizens wear the uniform, and for many families', their last connection to the military is through a grandfather or great-grandfather who served in World War II.

We're also wondering about "corporate social responsibility," that favored term of the life, often applied to companies accused of old-fashioned greed, ripping off the public or exploiting their employees. Clearly, such demands don't extend to conglomerates that merely capitalize on the military for fun and profit.

So maybe Disney got it right. Cash in on the heroism of SEAL Team 6, make another mint, and no need to worry about bad p.r. That's why I'm trademarking all those Air Force terms. Sooner or later, someone will want tennis shoes, sunglasses or a T-shirt with the words "Air Force" and that super-cool logo. You see, this is a long-term investment, since the USAF isn't exactly a hot brand right now. The same week the SEALs double-tapped bin Laden, the "air arm" was marking its own achievement: dedicating an area at the Air Force Academy reserved for those who practice "earth-centered religions."

Obviously, the brand needs some work.


Anonymous said...

Technically, SeAL is SeAL, not SEAL. Sea, Air, Land. Acutally, they should be SALs, but that is not as sexy.

In any event, did they get permission from Charlie Sheen?

MarkD said...

I had assumed that prior usage would render the trademark moot. Of course, I am not an attorney, and the law is an a$$.

J.R. said...

I'm still steamed at "USA TRUCK" which apparently is allowed to use the Air Force wing rondel on their trucks as their trademark.