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Trademark law history: Who owns the word 'superhero?'

Ask the average American who his or her favorite superhero is, and the person will wax poetic about Batman, Superman, Spiderman and many more "superheroes" who they looked up to as children and probably felt like they had a very personal connection with. In this respect, most Americans would agree that the term "superhero" is a common word in the lexicon and no one has the sole financial rights to it. However, this is not the case.

DC Comics and Marvel are massive comic book generating corporations, and -- supposedly -- they own the legal rights to the moniker "superhero." In fact, if any other comic book maker tries to use the word "superhero" in a title page, Marvel and DC Comics will pursue litigation against them vigorously to seek financial claims. The aggressiveness of these comic book giant's protection of their trademarks on "superhero" have caused many to judge them as "trademark bullies." However, no one has tried to contest their claims on the name.

The small indie comic book publishers that can't afford to bring a lawsuit against Marvel and DC Comics are the ones that tend to complain about the situation, but usually these smaller publishers dismiss the issue as not worth the expense to litigate.

If you have been challenged in a trademark lawsuit, or if you have received a cease and desist letter from a large company, you may face a similar situation to that of small comic book publishers who want to use the term "superhero." When it comes to trademark litigation, there are some battles that are so costly and so time-consuming that they may not be worth the financial risks involved.

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