Disney Should Run Its IP “Creation” Strategies Through a Different Risk Management Filter

We've written before about Disney marking something they didn't create; recall our discussion of Snow White. We've refrained from writing about Disney’s application to trademark Seal Team 6, mostly because EVERYONE else was writing about it, and few had anything to add. It fell into the same category as Snow White, to us: Disney tries to mark something they didn't create: legal, but smart?

Well, it’s financially smart if it works, we suppose, but not so smart if it doesn’t.  In today’s world, much competitive intelligence can come from public filings, so quarterly SEC filings are scanned, patent and trademark applications are monitored, etc. If a filing offends the public, it will make news.

The public outcry against Disney after the attempt to trademark Seal Team 6 was enough to force a withdrawal of the application, especially when the U.S. Navy, the creator, later filed a similar application. It reminds us of the Disney attempt to take what many historians and Civil War buffs feel is sacred ground in Gettysburg and turn it into a theme park. Eventually Disney had to withdraw that application as well.

The key is the very people Disney is offending are central to their long-term survival. These main-streeters go to theme parks, buy souvenirs, watch Disney and Touchstone movies. Perhaps trademarking the words “Snow White” wasn’t enough to light a fire, but attempting to co-opt Seal Team 6 was. Maybe being the temporary butt of late-night jokes is a small price to pay.  Maybe. But there has to be a threshold, beyond which a company becomes the joke, and the effect on reputation when that happens can be destructive to enterprise value. All aggressive moves assume some risk. Perhaps what needs to be reviewed at Disney is their approach to risk assessment.