DC Opposes Trademark Application For 'Algorithmic Justice League' For Some Reason
DC Comics, the company behind some of our most beloved superheroes, has built a reputation for itself for playing the supervillain when it comes to intellectual property disputes. Chiefly at issue tends to be trademark law, which DC views as some kind of overarching right for it to not allow any other entity to hold a trademark that even remotely overlaps with its own established marks. DC has taken this to absurd levels, opposing trademark applications that couldn't possibly be confused with its own properties, even as many of its marks are very, very well known.This continues to the present. Most recently, DC has decided to oppose the trademark application for a group founded by MIT's Joy Buolamwini to spotlight the negative consequences of certain technologies, which she dubbed The Algorithmic Justice League.
Buolamwini filed in 2017 for a US trademark on Algorithmic Justice League, saying she had used the name for more than a year on projects that “promote awareness of and combat bias in algorithms as used in artificial intelligence.” In June, DC lawyers filed to oppose the registration.DC claims consumers may confuse the group’s work on AI algorithms with its superhero collective Justice League, founded in 1960 by Wonder Woman and six others. “Such false assumptions will cause injury and harm,” the company’s filing says. It cites 10 trademarks related to the Justice League that mostly predate Buolamwini’s application, covering such uses as comic books, movies, mouse pads, and "adhesive plastic bandages for skin wounds."DC's own citations point to the absurdity in all of this. Namely that none of the marks held by DC remotely bleed into the work that Buolamwini is doing. The closest you could get would be the view that some members of the public might see her as a superhero in her own right, attempting to head off the dangers of AI and algorithms. Other than that, it's difficult to see where the public is going to be confused between superheroes and this kind of technological research.DC, as it typically does, goes to great lengths to point out that its marks are super-famous and therefore deserving of expanded protection.
Fictional beings capable of flight or freakish strength might seem hard to confuse with the real-world work of Buolamwini—whose abilities appear to be 100 percent human. To draw attention to the potential harms of AI technology she has written code, published academic research, and presented her findings in a TED talk, congressional testimony, and spoken word poetry.Yet DC is a powerful foe, standing on reasonable legal ground. “The more famous the mark, the broader the protection,” says Alan Fisch, an intellectual property lawyer with the firm Fisch Sigler.Labeling this as reasonable is probably a stretch. Famous or not, there are limits to the expanded protections available to well known trademarks. And, I would argue, DC's Justice League marks are certainly different than its truly famous marks. Had, for instance, this group been called the Algorithmic Supermen, we might be having a slightly different conversation. But the deviation in the markets and the name chosen don't lend themselves to claims of potential confusion.But DC's going to DC, I suppose. It would just be nice to see the company play superhero instead of villain for once.