Trademark Laws

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Trademark Laws

I’m trying to find out the following for
my restaurant
A can I name items on my menu after
popular characters, provided that they
do not depict the characters, only their
names. For example, some name
ideas are Ariel, Elsa, Belle, Alice in
B can I use the names of fairy tales
and stories in the decorations and
decor of the restaurant. Blatantly use
and display phrases similar to ‘Belle
was in love with the Beast to remind us
that…’ Or ‘Snow White was given a
poison apple to…’
C can I legally display in the decor of
my business shadows/cutouts of
characters described above, mind you I
am not using the character, only the
shadow of cutout of the character..and
if not where is the line drawn at? Most
of the stories themselves are in the
public domain, but Disney has made
them so popular, at the least depicting
general princesses, frogs, mermaids,
etc I believe would be fine. Correct?

Asked on August 25, 2016 under Business Law, Colorado


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

Your last line of your question is actually the answer to the question: you can use names from public domain stories or myths, even if they have been later turned into Disney stories, and you can use pictures or silhoutes of generic examples of those characters--a generic mermaid, a generic princess, etc. What you *can't* do is use any images recognizable as the Disney characters (or use any characters which *only* appeared in Disney movies, like Mulan). To use a comic book example: everyone is familiar with Marvel's "Thor," and no one else can depict a blond Thor holding Marvel's version of Mjolnir. BUT Thor the myth long predates Marvel, and a number of comic book companies (e.g. Image, Comico) have used Thor as a superhero (or villian) without problem, by either basing him more closely on the myth (red hair, beard, more viking looking) or coming up with their own entirely new version (ginger-haired Englishman). Similarly, so long as you don't use the Disney version of a storybook character, you should be fine.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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