Can You Trademark a Character?

Yes, you can trademark a fictional character as long as it serves as either your company’s logo or brand name.

This information was provided by our founding attorney, Xavier Morales, Esq. 

In order to secure a trademark for a character, you must use its name, image, or both to brand your products and services. For example, the “MICKEY MOUSE” name and image are both trademarks owned by Disney. Trademarking a character will prevent any competitors from utilizing the character’s name or image to advertise or sell competing products or services.

Does Fan Art Violate Copyrights?

If you register your unique character as a trademark, will it stop people from being able to produce fan art? In short, the answer is typically no. Most fan art falls under "fair use" but violates trademark/copyright protection if it moves from education or parody to a point where it causes confusion in commerce.

Jomo S. Thompson did a great piece explaining character copyrights and fan art, summing it up nicely:

Fan art could also potentially violate the Batman trademark. Protection in the trademark realm covers the right to claim you are the rightful source of a good. Trademarks are violated when a second party markets goods in such a way that the consuming public could believe they are buying from the first party. Trademarks usually protect words or phrases and company logos, but can also extend to packaging (called trade dress). Fan art shouldn’t ordinarily violate trademark if the artist makes no claim to be associated with DC and isn’t marketing his or her own “Batman” comic. -

Protecting Your Character

Using a character to brand your products or services can be a very effective way to create brand recognition.  However, in order to attain trademark rights to the character, it must be unique and original. We always recommend having a thorough trademark search performed to ensure that there are not any similar registered trademarks in the United States Patent and Trademark Office database. Additionally, you should have a competent trademark attorney perform the search to make sure there are no other trademarks that could prevent you from securing a trademark on your character’s name or image.

The Steps to Getting a Character Trademarked

Step 1: Perform A Comprehensive Search

We will conduct a thorough trademark search to ensure your desired mark doesn’t closely resemble existing registered trademarks. Seeking an attorney's help can aid in identifying both exact matches and "confusingly similar" marks, as they have access to various databases and can discern subtle distinctions.

Step 2: File the Trademark Application

After due diligence, we file a trademark application through the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) or its alternative, TEAS Plus. The choice between these two can impact costs and requirements; we'll provide guidance on this decision and help navigate the complexities.

Step 3: Monitor Your Application

Once the application is submitted, expect a waiting period of 4 to 6 months for feedback from the USPTO. While the initial response might be an approval, there's a possibility of receiving an Office Action or denial, but amendments can typically be made and refiled.

Step 4: Finalize Your Registration

Upon application approval, the trademark will be published in the Trademark Official Gazette for 30 days, allowing potential opposition from other companies. If opposed, the case might proceed to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB). If unopposed, a certificate of registration will be issued, but ongoing maintenance is essential to preserve trademark rights.

Protect Your Mark

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for your business name, logo, or slogan.

Xavier Morales, Esq.

About the Author

Xavier Morales, Esq.

Mr. Morales founded his 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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