Washington: US Marine G-string underwear. The Starfleet Marine Corps Academy. And the motto from a human resources company: “The Few. The Proud. The Well-Paid.”
Of course, none of those are actually from the US Marine Corps. As one war has ended and another winds down, enterprising members of the armed services are rushing home to get their piece of the American dream and woo consumers by showing off any affiliation with the US military.
As a result, the Pentagon’s handful of trademark attorneys have been churning out cease-and-desist letters to try to protect their brands from lookalike logos on products that are not always the image of dignity, including a toilet paper called Leatherneck Wipes.
The Pentagon is playing offence as well. Military attorneys have been running back and forth to the US Patent and Trademark Office to register trademarks for military brands — in part to make sure that the services will get a cut of licensing fees.
In the past year, the Marines have been to the trademarks office 68 times for products like Guadalcanal sweatshirts, meant to evoke the World War II battle against the Japanese.
There are also “Pain Is Weakness Leaving the Body” water bottles, meant to promote, well, general Marine toughness.
The Marines registered only one trademark in 2003 and four in 2008. But as troops came home from Iraq and then Afghanistan, efforts began picking up. In 2010 and the first half of 2011, the Marines registered nine trademarks.
Then Navy SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden in May 2011, Disney tried to trademark the name SEAL Team Six, and things ratcheted up from there.
The Navy immediately fired back at Disney, filing its own trademark for the phrases “SEAL team” and “Navy SEALs,” terms that, the Navy said in its filing, imply membership in a Navy organisation that “develops and executes military missions involving special operations strategy, doctrine and tactics.”
Still, the berm had been breached, especially with so many servicemen and women returning home and setting up small businesses. In 2012 and 2013, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all saw a big spike in efforts to use military branding to sell goods and services, military trademark lawyers said.
“Because we’ve been in two wars in 10 years, we’ve had a lot of patriotism,” said Philip Greene, the Marines’ trademark counsel. “A lot of people are getting out of the service, saying, ‘I want to go into business.’” He said the “unpleasant part of my job is going out and talking to a Marine” and having to say no to someone who, proud of his or her affiliation with the service, wants to show it conspicuously in branding.
Such was the conversation Greene had recently with Shadrach Brooks, a Marine veteran who started Semper Fidelis Garage Doors in Mesa, Arizona, in 2012. In addition to the company name — Latin for “always faithful,” and the Marine motto — Brooks initially put the iconic Marine seal on the company’s masthead, complete with bald eagle, a globe showing the Americas and an anchor. And, at the bottom of the seal, “garage doors.”
Greene promptly called him. “At first I thought it was a friend playing a joke on me,” Brooks recalled. Eventually the two worked things out — and Semper Fidelis Garage Doors is still called Semper Fidelis Garage Doors. But now there is no Marine seal logo, just two crossed swords.
The military services do allow some use of their brands in exchange for a licence fee. Since 2009, the Marines have collected $5.4 million (Dh19.8 million) in such fees, and last year their trademarks office turned over $700,000 to a morale, welfare and recreation fund.
There are plenty of critics who say government entities like the Marines should not be making it so hard for US taxpayers to wear — or sell — their brand. “Should the military be able to monetise expressions of support for these entities?” asked Paul Levy, a lawyer with Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group. “I would say no.” Americans, he added, “should be able to express our affinity to government agencies we like without paying them a fee.”
For some Marines, being told that they cannot use a brand they fought for does not sit well. “They believe they earned it on Parris Island,” said Capt. Eric Flanagan, a Marine Corps spokesman, referring to the installation near Beaufort, South Carolina, where 16,000 enlisted Marines go through basic training every year.
— New York Times