Hasbro Files Suit Against DC Comics Over ‘Bumblebee’ Trademark

Transformers Bumblebee Superhero Girl
Courtesy of Universal/Mattel

Two superhero franchises are about to square off in federal court over the right to market “Bumblebee” toys.

Hasbro, owner of the Transformers brand, filed a lawsuit on Monday accusing Warner Bros. and DC Comics of trademark infringement. The suit claims that the DC “Bumblebee” — a teenage girl with the ability to shrink — could easily be confused with the Autobot “Bumblebee.”

Hasbro has a lot riding on the “Bumblebee” character, set to star in the first Transformers spinoff, which is due in theaters at Christmas 2018.

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The company is now seeking to block the sales of Mattel’s Bumblebee toy, which is part of the DC Super Hero Girls line of action figures. Hasbro is also concerned about a Bumblebee Lego set.

Bumblebee is one of the central heroes of the Transformers universe. Hasbro says that it began selling Bumblebee toys in 1983, and has been selling building-block toy sets with the Bumblebee brand since 2011. Hasbro touts an online article that ranked Bumblebee fourth on a list of the “Top 25 Transformers.”

DC Comics and Warner Bros. announced the DC Super Hero Girls franchise in April 2015 as a partnership with Mattel. The TV series began airing in October 2015. The series features younger versions of DC superheroes, including Batgirl and Harley Quinn, as they attend high school. The Bumblebee character is a tech wizard with super strength and the ability to shrink. The original Bumblebee character was first introduced in the DC “Teen Titans” comic series in 1977.

Hasbro filed for a trademark on the “Bumblebee” name on July 15, 2015, and the trademark was registered on Dec. 22, 2015.

“Defendants’ and/or their licensees’ use of the Accused Mark is likely to cause consumers mistakenly to believe that the Accused Goods emanate from or are otherwise associated with Hasbro,” the suit alleges. “Such improper use of the Accused Mark by Defendants and/or their licensees is likely to cause confusion, mistake and/or deception among the public as to the source of the
Accused Goods.”

Warner Bros. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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  1. “Bumblebee” is the species name of a real animal on Earth. Hasbro does not own BUMBLEBEES. Screw Hasbro trying to boggart a common real-world word. Even Disney got smacked down last time they tried that.

  2. Hasbro is digging their own grave with their greed and petty agression towards other brands as well as fan-creators, especially when they can’t even make toys that they produce, from shows they own and create, look anything like the actual characters. The new MLP Equestria Girl dolls look worse than some Chinese knockoff brands.

  3. Richard Mower says:

    all i know is, i don’t want to buy anything from such a greedy selfish company (just like i don’t by apple products)

  4. Richard Mower says:

    BOO on Hasbro, unsportsman like conduct, no one is going to mistake a Doll for a Robot action figure. this is just petty. and you shouldn’t be able to trademark/copyright single commonly used words

  5. Rex the Wonder Dog says:

    If the DC Comics version of Bumblebee was created in 1977 it should be them suing Hasbro. They probably didn’t take action in 1983 because they didn’t think it was that big of a deal..

  6. Vernon Williamson says:

    So the ONE black character in the DC Super Girls franchise and guess what?!? We’re gonna make you take it off the shelves!!!

  7. Juan Antonio Guasco Pérez says:

    Bumblebee of DC is of 1977

  8. Robin says:

    Mommy, daddy, stop fighting!

  9. Blahdalizer says:

    Hasbro Hasbro Hasbro. You turn Twilight into an alicorn and now you get on to a DC character from the 70s? Is there no low you won’t stoop?

  10. M says:

    “ ‘Defendants’ and/or their licensees’ use of the Accused Mark is likely to cause consumers mistakenly to believe that the Accused Goods emanate from or are otherwise associated with Hasbro,’ the suit alleges.”

    Who the fuck would mistake a car/ transformer with a human doll? Just seems greedy on Hasbro’s part. Hope DC wins this. Also just seems like they are trying to drum up attention before their ‘Bumblebee’ movie comes out… not cool (but it will bomb anyway so whatever).

  11. Pantaleon says:

    Hasbro is stupid. The DC character Bumblebee came Pitt and was published in comic books since 1977! I love Transformers, but this is just dumb.

  12. Bas says:

    DC going to win!

  13. Nevermore says:

    Little Bumblebee name trademark history for those too young to remember:

    Following the release of the 1995 Generation 2 Go-Bot figure, Hasbro stopped using the name “Bumblebee” for quite a while. People occasionally bring up the question why Hasbro didn’t use the name during Beast Wars, when it would have been an “obvious” choice… problem is, a toy that actually turns into an insect being named “Bumblebee” would have been most likely been too descriptive, kind of like calling any random Transformers figure that turns into a car “Car”. So Hasbro didn’t use the name during the Beast Era.

    By the early 2000s, the emerging 1980s nostalgia boom brought back an interest in the original “Generation 1” Transformers, with Dreamwave bringing out new comics and Hasbro releasing reissues of the original toys. The only “reissues” of the G1 Bumblebee Mini-Bot figure (outside Japan) were the retooled keychain versions, first released by Fun-4-All and then by Basic Fun. Supposedly, being marketed as “keychains” rather than “toys”, they fell under a different trademark category, so they could be called “Bumblebee” without much of a problem.

    Meanwhile, the first actual toy of the Bumblebee character released by Hasbro themselves in almost a decade was the Heroes of Cybertron PVC figure (sold in a two-pack with Spike), but the product’s official name was “Autobot Espionage Team”, with Bumblebee only identified by name in the bio on the back, without a “trademark” ™ claim after the name.

    The exact reason for Hasbro’s apparent inability to use the name “Bumblebee” in the “toys” category was never positively identified; one potential culprit blamed was a company named Playcore and their their “Buzz the Bumble Bee” swing. Either way, it seemed like the name was off-limits for Hasbro at the time, just like numerous other names of once-prominent G1 characters they couldn’t use for a while but have gotten back since, such as “Bluestreak”, “Shockwave”, “Hot Rod” and “Trailbreaker”. One of the main characters from the Armada line was at one point going to be called “Bumblebee”, but presumably because of the trademark situation, he was eventually renamed into “Hot Shot”, ultimately becoming his own separate character.

    That all changed in 2005. By that time, a big budget live-action movie was in the works, which was supposed to turn Hasbro from a mere toy manufacturer into a fully-fledged entertainment company, following Marvel’s example. Hasbro was willing to take more risks it wouldn’t have bothered with before, and since one of the main characters in the movie was intended to be Bumblebee, Hasbro was ready to get the name back even if there was opposition.

    Hasbro’s attempt to register the “Bumblebee” trademark back then was contested both by a production company named “Bumble Bee Productions, Inc.” and by an online toy retailer named “Bumblebee Toys”, both of whom argued that the intended Hasbro trademark was too similar to their own active marks. Hasbro eventually abandoned the attempt to register the trademark, instead simply opting for an unregistered trademark. Since the movie was pushed back several times from its initially intended 2006 release date to 2007, the first Hasbro “Bumblebee” toys released in over a decade were a non-transforming 3 inch Titanium Series figure and a Deluxe Class figure from the short-lived “Classics” filler line.

    Those were followed by a sheer flood of new “Bumblebee” toys in 2007, and the deluge just kept going from there, with the Bumblebee character becoming synonymous with the Transformers brand to the point where he rivals Optimus Prime himself as the brand’s flagship character.

    So apparently Hasbro gave registering the trademark another shot in 2015, this time with success.

    Now, DC’s Bumblebee (or “Bumble Bee”) characater has seen numerous toys of herself over the years, some of which I think were even available when Hasbro didn’t dare using the name, so if anything, this looks like a pissing cotest between two major companies that can go either way. DC might have consistent use in its favor, while Hasbro has a successful, supposedly uncontested trademark registration (which DC/Mattel apparently missed?) and can also argue that their character trumps DC’s character in terms of popularity. I mean, I know a bit about the Teens Titans, and Bumblebee isn’t exactly an A-lister.

    And yet, Bumblebee the Transformers character was once a forgotten footnote in the brand’s history for nearly a decade.

  14. no says:

    Bumblebee is a dictionary word and is too generic for a trademark to have been issued. Neither should be granted trademark status.

    • So are Apple, Orange, Windows, Office, Sky, Virgin, Play, Amazon, Uber, and Marvel.

      • Maddog says:

        Those are company names and logos. I can name a character Apple or Sky or Virgin and sell the likeness of them. And given that Bumblebee has an existing meaning to which the DC character has association greater than the Transformer being yellow also play a part.

        But in response to the original posters assertion there should not have been a trademark issued I agree with you. It isn’t just about the name itself though. If she was a yellow robot created in 1977 then this is cloudy. A model of a copyrighted character from the 70s who is a girl in a Bee suit should not be seen as infringement. Feels like Hasbro sour grapes of being afraid to use the character for so many years and wanting to bust Mattels balls for not worrying about it.

  15. Trademarks only apply to specific areas of commerce, and have to be used regularly to be defended. The issue here shouldn’t be “which character is older,” but “who has been selling toys with that name most regularly?” Hasbro’s been selling Bumblebee toys for a solid decade (there was a bit of a gap between 2006’s Classics Bumblebee and the then-most recent toy, so the 1983/84 creation of their first Bumblebee really shouldn’t be the factor), whereas Mattel/DC has only been selling their Bumblebee toys for a few years now.

    • rickn23 says:

      Well, if Hasbro thinks there is consumer confusion between the two characters and DC has prior copyright to the name “Bumblebee”, couldn’t DC counter-sue on a copyright issue, and make Mattel change their character’s name? That would render Mattel’s trademark useless.

    • jlaking says:

      Are you forgetting that DC has been using their ‘Bumblebee’ in comics.

      • No, because trademarks are category-specific, so usage of a name within the pages of a comic booklet is entirely irrelevant for a trademark conflict in the field of toys.

  16. Adam Poole says:

    wow this is dumb.. and hasbro is being greedy..

    • rickn23 says:

      Plus, I think DC’s Bumblebee predates the Transformers by at least a decade.

      • Again, “who came first” is relevant for copyright. This is about trademark. What matters here is “who has been using it more consistently as of late”.

        Bandai released two toys of DC’s Bumblebee character in 2004, a “Bumble Bee & Hot Shot” (sic!) 2-pack and a “Bumblebee’s Shuttle Buzzer” set. That was during the time when Hasbro couldn’t (or didn’t t dare to) use the name.

        Then Hasbro got the name back and released a gazillion new “Bumblebee” Toys every year.

        The next toys of DC’s character are the Mattel doll and the Lego set this lawsuit is about, both of which came out in 2015, more than ten years after the Bandai toys.

        I’d say Hasbro has the upper hand here.

      • Grimlock794 says:

        You’re right. DC created their character in 1977 and she has been in use pretty much since then.

        Hasbro has a long been aware of issues with their Transformers chacters due generic names like Bumblebee and have been changing names due to trademark loses.

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