The Trademark

The Walt Disney Company, commonly just referred to as Disney, is a long-standing 98-year-old California-based creative entertainment and media company famous for its wide array of popular trademarked stories and characters.

The Domain

Disney’s domain,, was registered in March of 1990 by Disney Enterprises Inc. Disney initially filed for trademark registration of in May of 1998 though this wasn’t the first trademark registered with the USPTO by the Walt Disney company.

Read more on trademarks and domain names

The History of Disney

It’s fair to say that everyone has heard of the worldwide phenomenon that is the Disney enterprise and all it encompasses, such as Disneyland theme parks, Disney stores, and famous characters such as Cinderella, Rapunzel, Aladdin, and Snow White but before these huge commercial successes, Disney had enjoyed a beginning as a small entertainment company founded by two brothers.

Initially founded in 1923 by brothers Roy and Walt Disney as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio after Walt Disney arrived in California with nothing but his hopes.

He soon created a cartoon in Kansas City about a young girl in a cartoon world called Alice’s Wonderland, and he decided that he could use it as a pilot film to sell a series of ”Alice comedies” to a distributor.

After four years of creating Alice comedies, Walt Disney decided to branch out into an all-cartoon series, creating a character named Oswald The Lucky Rabbit to star in his series.

Within a year, Walt had made 26 Oswald cartoons. Still, when he tried to secure funding for the second year of cartoons, he found out that his distributor had decided to sign up almost all of his animators without him hoping to continue creating the series for less money without Walt’s involvement.

On revisiting his contract Walt Disney realized he didn’t own the rights to Oswald – the distributor did, meaning that Walt could not sue for copyright infringement. This was a painful introduction to intellectual property protection (or rather, the consequences of the lack thereof!)

In 1934 Disney began producing the first of many feature-length animated films. It took three years to complete, and in December 1937, Snow White and the seven dwarfs premiered.

By 1939 it was the highest-grossing film ever (at the time), making more than 120x what it had cost to produce.

Using the profits generated by Snow White, Disney financed the construction of a state-of-the-art 51-acre studio complex in Burbank, California. To this day, Walt Disney Studios is headquartered in the same studio.

The 1950s were somewhat of a golden era for Disney Productions, and multiple new animated films were released at this time. To name just a few, there were Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), and sleeping beauty (1959), all of which were commercial hits.

Disney had such success that they ended their contract with their distributor, RKO pictures – a big five producer that had found success during Hollywood’s Golden Age – and set up their own distribution arm, calling it Buena vista distribution.

Disney continued to enjoy significant commercial success, but in 1966, Roy O. Disney took over as chairman following his brother Walt’s death from lung cancer complications.

Roy pioneered the release of several significant animations, such as The Aristocrats (1970).

Roy led the company until his death in 1971, at which point Walt’s son-in-law Ron Miller and two executive partners took control of Walt Disney Productions.

Three months before Roy Disney’s death, he opened The Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, partly to commemorate his brother Walt’s life.

Twenty-four days after the park opened, Roy O. Disney dedicated the property and declared that it should be known as ”Walt Disney World” in his brothers’ honor, citing that “Everyone has heard of Ford cars. But have they all heard of Henry Ford, who started it all? Walt Disney World is in memory of the man who started it all, so people will know his name as long as Walt Disney World is here.”

After Roy’s death, Disney branched into the teenage movie market with varying success before returning to animated children’s movies in the ’90s.

Despite the lack of success in the teenage movie market, Disney still enjoyed relative commercial success in other ways, which meant launching many new projects in the USA and abroad – such as Tokyo’s first Disneyland (1983) and a brand new cable TV network in the same year – The Disney Channel. This is in addition to expansion in Disney merchandise and the advent of Disney stores, the first of which opened in 1987.

In the ’90s, Disney enjoyed several commercial successes, including Aladdin (1992) 101 Dalmatians (1996), and Toy Story (1995), the latter of which would herald in the fourth highest-grossing animated franchise of all time.

Disney’s Trademarks

Disney has an array of trademarks that we’ll look at today, having trademarked multiple slogans, logos, and characters over nearly 100 years in business!

Mickey Mouse

Mickey Mouse hails from the original ”Walt Disney Era”, having been created by Walt Disney himself while recovering from the loss associated with Oswald The Lucky Rabbit. Walt was on a train headed to California when he was struck by a creative idea that would eventually net Disney millions – Mickey mouse, which also represents Disney’s first significant trademark.

A trademark application was filed and approved by the US patent and trademark office in 1928, giving Disney the exclusive rights to a character that would become inextricably synonymous with Disney. Mickey Mouse remains one of the most popular Disney characters to this day.

For this reason, Disney has lobbied multiple times to allow for changes to copyright law that would allow Mickey Mouse to remain under copyright protection – with the law previously stating that trademarks expire after 56 years. As yet, Mickey Mouse remains protected from copyright infringement until at least 2024.

The Lion King

Best known for being a 1994 film that reached #1 at the box office, The Lion King is the 32nd film in Disney’s animated movie canon. The trademark also covers commercial merchandise, a live-action movie (2019), and several spin-off TV shows such as The Lion Guard (2015-2019). Several characters are also trademarked, including Scar and Simba.

The trademark for the Lion King was filed in 1993, a year before the release of the first film.

Winnie The Pooh

Winnie the Pooh is perhaps one of the oldest Disney characters, having been first seen in a publication in 1926 though Disney wouldn’t acquire the exclusive rights and trademark until 1961. Now, several of the characters featured in the Winnie the Pooh films are also trademarked, including Piglet, Roo, Eeyore, and Tigger.

Several rides at Disneyland are associated with Winnie the pooh and at least ten different movies, making this one of Disney’s most significant trademarks.

Related: The history of the Disney logo

Wrapping Up

Trademark rights are an underrated way to protect your companies interests, and being a corporate giant with fingers in many pies and several commercial interests, in order to protect these interests and associated intellectual property, Disney relies on trademark law which protects trademark owners from trademark infringement.

In order to make use of these crucial legal protections, Disney has at least 4,000 registered trademarks currently, which include movies, Disney characters, corporate arms, theme parks, and other commercial enterprises.

Xavier Morales, Esq.

About the Author:

Xavier Morales, Esq.

Mr. Morales founded this trademark law practice in January 2007 with the goal of providing intellectual property expertise to entrepreneurs and businesses around the country. Since then, he has filed more than 6,000 trademarks with the USPTO. You can learn more about Xavier here.

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