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Did DC Lose the Trademark to Superman’s “Truth, Justice and the American Way?”

In the latest Comic Book Legends Revealed, see whether DC lost the trademark on the Superman slogan “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”

Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the eight hundred and seventeenth installment where we examine three comic book legends and determine whether they are true or false. As usual, there will be three posts, one for each of the three legends.

NOTE: If my Twitter page hits 5,000 followers, I’ll do a bonus edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed that week. Great deal, right? So go follow my Twitter page, Brian_Cronin!


DC lost the trademark to “Truth, Justice and the American Way”



A whole lot of digital ink has been spilled discussing DC’s recent announcement that Superman will have a new mission statement, “Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow,” replacing his previous slogan of “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”

DC reveals Superman's new mission statement: Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow.

Now, I’ve written about the history of “Truth, Justice and the American Way” a lot over the years. I have pointed out that when Superman first had the slogan about fighting for truth and justice, the “American Way” was not part of the slogan, only being added for World War II and then dropped once the war ended. It was brought back during the virulant anti-Communist 1950s as the new slogan for the Adventures of Superman TV series and then pretty much dropped after that, as well (like it was not used on the Super Friends cartoon series, for instance). However, the influence of that long-running television series (which then was syndicated for decades) was so strong that the slogan was burrowed into people’s consciousness (which is why it was referenced by Christopher Reeve’s Superman in the Superman live action film of the late 1970s).

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As I referenced in a recent feature, the slogan really wasn’t a part of the Superman comic books until the kids who grew up on the 1950s TV series (and the reruns of that series, which was pervasive throughout the 1960s and still hung around after that) came of age in the 1980s and 1990s, and then those kids (now adults) mostly just spent their time questioning the slogan more than anything.

However, at the same time, while it wasn’t necessarily a prominent part of the comic book series, it was still a popular part of Superman’s branding, appearing on posters and stuff like that…

And DC did, in fact, attempt to trademark the phrase in both 2003, 2004 and 2005 (for different materials). But here’s the interesting thing – DC doesn’t actually HAVE a trademark on the phrase, and hasn’t had a live trademark on the phrase since 2007!

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The 2003 trademark was specifically for the phrase on printed material, “Printed matter and paper goods–namely, books featuring characters from animated, action adventure, comedy and/or drama features, comic books, children’s books, magazines featuring characters from animated, action adventure, comedy and/or drama features, coloring books, children’s activity books; stationery, writing paper, envelopes, notebooks, diaries, note cards, greeting cards, trading cards; lithographs; pens, pencils, cases therefor, erasers, crayons, markers, colored pencils, painting sets, chalk and chalkboards; decals, heat transfers; posters; mounted and/or unmounted photographs; book covers, book marks, calendars, gift wrapping paper; paper party favors and paper party decorations–namely, paper napkins, paper doilies, paper place mats, crepe paper, paper hats, invitations, paper table cloths, paper cake decorations; printed transfers for embroidery or fabric appliqués; printed patterns for costumes, pajamas, sweatshirts and t-shirts”

That 2003 trademark didn’t work out and DC ultimately abandoned its claim to the mark in 2006 (you can see the timeline of events here).

Then the following year, DC tried to trademark the term for motion pictures, “Motion picture films featuring comedy, drama, action, adventure and/or animation, and motion picture films for broadcast on television featuring comedy, drama, action, adventure and/or animation; prerecorded vinyl records, audio tapes, audio-video tapes, audio video cassettes, audio video discs, and digital versatile discs featuring music, comedy, drama, action, adventure, and/or animation; stereo headphones; batteries; cordless telephones; hand-held calculators; audio cassette and CD players; CD ROM computer game discs; hand-held karaoke players, telephone and/or radio pagers; short motion picture film cassettes featuring comedy, drama, action, adventure and/or animation to be used with hand-held viewers or projectors; video cassette recorders and players, compact disc players, digital audio tape recorders and players, electronic diaries; radios; mouse pads; eyeglasses, sunglasses and cases therefore; audio tapes and booklets sold as a unit featuring comedy, drama, action, adventure, animation and music information; computer programs, namely, software linking digitized video and audio media to a global computer information network; game equipment sold as a unit for playing a parlor-type computer game; video and computer game programs; video game cartridges and cassettes; cellular telephone accessories, namely hands-free accessories, cellular telephone covers and cellular telephone face covers; encoded magnetic cards, namely, phone cards, credit cards, cash cards, debit cards and magnetic key cards; and decorative magnets”

And then in 2005, DC tried again to trademark it for television series and other live action projects, “Entertainment services in the nature of live-action, comedy, drama and animated television series; production of live-action, comedy, drama and animated television series; distribution and display of live-action, comedy, drama and animated motion picture theatrical films; production of live-action, comedy, drama and animated motion picture theatrical films; theatrical performances both animated and live action; internet services providing information via an electronic global computer network in the field of entertainment relating specifically to music, movies, and television; providing general interest news, entertainment, and educational information via a global computer network; and providing information for and actual entertainment via electronic global communications network in the nature of live-action, comedy, drama and animated programs and production of live-action comedy, action and animated motion films for distribution via a global computer network”

However, there were objections to DC trademarking the phrase and by 2007, all of those trademark applications had been abandoned.

There is currently a live trademark for “Truth Justice American Way” for “Backpacks; Back packs; Backpacks with rolling wheels; Backpacks, book bags, sports bags, bum bags, wallets and handbags; Bags for sports; All purpose sports bags; All-purpose athletic bags; All-purpose carrying bags; All-purpose reusable carrying bags; Canvas shopping bags; Carry-all bags; Duffel bags; Garment bags for travel; Gym bags; Hip bags; Overnight bags; School backpacks; School bags; Shoulder bags; Small backpacks; Travelling bags; Waist bags” by a company other than DC. “Live,” though, with trademarks, doesn’t always mean that it is an approved trademark, it just means that it isn’t officially dead like an abandoned trademark. So the company trying to secure “Truth Justice American Way” might ultimately fail, but for now, its efforts are alive.

The key point is that DC abandoned its attempts to trademark “Truth, Justice and the American Way” more than 14 years ago, so that adds a new wrinkle to its decision to introduce a NEW slogan that could be trademarked in the future. The ability to trademark this new phrase (or lack of ability to trademark the previous phrase) might have had no impact on DC choosing to pick a new slogan for Superman, but it’s possible that it played a factor and it is interesting either way.

Thanks to my pal Ian G. for indirectly suggesting this one (he just brought it up in a discussion and I told him that it would make for a great legend).


Check out some other entertainment and sports legends from Legends Revealed:

1. Was An Episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation Never Filmed Because it Featured Two Gay Crew Members on the Enterprise?

2. Was Nightmare on Elm Street Seriously Inspired by the 1970s Pop Hit “Dream Weaver”?

3. Did the Kid Who Played Eddie Haskell Grow Up to Become Alice Cooper?

4. Were Tater Tots Invented As a Way to Deal With Factory Waste?


Check back later for part 2 of this installment’s legends!

Feel free to send suggestions for future comic legends to me at either cronb01@aol.com or brianc@cbr.com

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