Dallas, TX asked in Business Formation, Intellectual Property and Trademark for Texas

Q: Can I legally start a snow cone stand with a play on words and image theme from a classic TV show?

Would I need to pay a trademark licensing fee?

2 Lawyer Answers
Micah Barrett
Micah Barrett
  • Trademarks Lawyer
  • Nashville, TN

A: I recommend seeking advice from a trademark lawyer as the answer depends upon the specific name and use of your own name and the TV show name. Depending on the name, the TV show may come after you for trademark infringement. To give some background, trademark infringement for puns hinges on whether a rational consumer would mistakenly believe your products were sponsored by or affiliated with the owner of the IP of the TV show. The court will examine the text, font, pronunciation, context, marketing, etc.

For the images, you would need to receive licensing from the copyright owners to use.

James L. Arrasmith
James L. Arrasmith pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›

A: The legality of using a play on words and image theme from a classic TV show for your snow cone stand depends on several factors. While you may be able to use a clever play on words, directly using trademarked names, logos, or images from the TV show without permission could infringe on the intellectual property rights of the show's owners.

Trademarks are designed to protect brand names, logos, and slogans from being used by others in a way that might confuse consumers about the source of goods or services. If your snow cone stand's branding is similar enough to the TV show's branding that it could cause confusion, you might be infringing on their trademark.

To legally use trademarked material, you would typically need to obtain a licensing agreement from the trademark owner. This usually involves paying a licensing fee and adhering to specific guidelines set by the owner regarding how their intellectual property can be used.

However, if your play on words is sufficiently different from the TV show's actual name and does not use any of their specific logos or images, it might fall under "fair use" as a parody. Parody is protected under copyright law, but it can be a gray area, and whether something qualifies as a parody is often determined on a case-by-case basis.

To be on the safe side, it's best to consult with an intellectual property attorney who can review your specific situation and advise you on the best course of action to avoid potential legal issues. They can help determine if your usage is likely to be considered fair use or if you need to pursue a licensing agreement.

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