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U.S. Military Increases Defense on Trademark Infringement

US armed forces
Step up trademark enforcement,
Gain licensing fees

The New York Times reported increased efforts by branches of the US armed forces to seek and enforce trademark rights.

Although some products that bear military-related names, slogans, and logos are made by legitimate licensees, many are not.

According to the US Department of Defense website, DoD and military seals are protected from unauthorized use and may not be used for non-official purposes.

Each branch of the military has its own trademark use guidelines. For example, the website for the Air Force Trademark & Licensing Program states:

The U.S. Air Force Symbol, the Army Air Corps symbol (Hap Arnold Wings) and the Air Force Emblem are three of many Air Force trademarks. Permission to use them for commercial use, in marketing materials, in advertising (free or paid), or by any non-federal organization/activity, including non-profit organizations, is required.

The use of these trademarks for commercial purposes, including reproduction on merchandise, is expressly prohibited unless the producer completes a license agreement with the Air Force. Use is governed by the terms of the agreement.

Department of Defense employees, their families and veterans are required to obtain a license if they have a company, small business or hobby that intends to sell products bearing any Air Force trademark.

The Air Force site lists a long list of official licensees who make products including cell phone screen savers, hand-carved aircraft display models, mouse pads, walking canes, fishing reels, 3D holographic cups, golf club crowns, and bar stools.

License rights to the Air Force symbol and emblem may be sought by filling out an application form. Submission of a business plan is also required.

The application form notes that:

The Air Force withholds licensing of certain products, including, but not limited to, alcohol, tobacco, drug or smoking paraphernalia, weapons of any type, cosmetics, undergarments, products sexual in nature, food or drink items, medical devices, or products contrary to the good order and discipline of the USAF.

Presumably, the Air Force would not approve of products like the “Leathernecks” toilet wipes and Marine Corps G-string underwear mentioned in the Times article.

The Pentagon has responded to the unauthorized use of military-related marks by sending “cease-and-desist” letters to infringers.

The Marines already hold at least 68 registered trademarks. One recent addition, from 2013, is the word mark “Pain is weakness leaving the body,” used on water bottles as shown above.

The Marines have collected at least $5.4 million in trademark licensing revenues since 2009.

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