As the days grow shorter, it seems that the shorter people (we call them “kids”) start to want costumes and large bags the size of small dump trucks into which kindly neighbors intent on supporting the local dental association will deposit “treats.” You may have noticed that some costumes (for example, independent small-business marine entrepreneurs, native American leaders, Wiccans, and the like – political correctness is very important to us attorneys) are relatively inexpensive, while others such as Spider-Man®, Batman®, Superman®, any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle®, Super Mario®, and Mickey Mouse® to name but a few, cost amounts that would bankrupt some small African nations. Why, you may wonder, is there this price disparity? (Or, if you’re like most in suburbia, you just pay it and hope that for a brief and shining moment, the tykes will be happy and quiet in the back of the SUV.)
Most of the price difference between generic costumes and the fancy recognizable characters may be attributed to what intellectual property lawyers (you didn’t think that this was just an article about Halloween, did you?) call “BRAND VALUE”. In other words, the companies that own the copyrights and trademarks in everything from Scooby Doo® to Sponge Bob Squarepants® (and no, that is NOT a cute nickname for our law partner, Bob Yarbrough…) charge licensing fees to the costume manufacturers for the privilege of using their famous characters’ appearances. After all, these corporations have spent a great deal of time, money and effort getting your kids to instantly recognize and imitate the characters (just ask a six year old what Squidward™ says, or which TransFormer® is the best.)
As a practical matter, if you make your own costumes, you don’t have to worry about paying royalties to the owners of the intellectual property. Beware, however, of posting that cute video showing your adorable home-made Buzz Lightyear® costume on YouTube…the trademark police may just get annoyed. Got an equally obtuse concern about intellectual property? Give the attorneys at LW&H a shout (but try not to use a catch-phrase of a famous cartoon character…those are registered too.)
— Lawrence A. Husick, Esq.