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Can you trademark a holiday?

Many companies have products or services that they wish to trademark in order to identify themselves as the source of the material. Business owners want consumers to have certain expectations of a product met when they purchase or use something that has been trademarked by a company. Protecting proprietary rights by applying to trademark something can be a huge benefit to companies, but it must be done so effectively, lawfully and responsibly. 

There are a number of issues that can arise when a company or individual wants to trademark something. Violating trademark rights or failure to actively use the trademark for a certain period of time can result in legal consequences and obstacles that companies generally try to avoid. There are also some trademark applications that are so unpopular that it would end up negatively affecting a company's public image significantly. For example, folks across Colorado may be aware that the Walt Disney Co. recently applied to trademark the name of a holiday, much to the outrage of people across the world.

According to reports, the company filed 10 applications to trademark "Dia de los Muertos," which is a holiday that is celebrated in the U.S., Latin America and Europe. The holiday, which translates to "Day of the Dead" in English, has been observed for centuries and honors those who have died. So why would Disney want to trademark it?

A Disney spokesperson confirmed that they have been developing a feature film based on the holiday and wanted to protect the title of the film and related materials. However, people argued that the holiday would be robbed of the traditions and cultural importance associated with it if a corporation owned the rights to its name. 

Disney eventually withdrew the trademark applications. Instead of citing the public backlash over the trademark attempt, Disney stated that the potential title of the film changed and therefore, they no longer were interested in trademarking "Dia de los Muertos."

Trademarks are just one example of intellectual property. There are many ways that business owners can go about protecting their company, products and services by utilizing intellectual property laws. However, it can be a very complex area of business law and company owners may want to speak with an attorney prior to making any decisions related to trademarks, copyrights or patents in order to avoid any legal disputes or backlash.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Disney withdraws trademark filing for 'Dia de los Muertos'," Adolfo Flores, May 8, 2013

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