Icon icons

Trademarks

One of the questions that’s come up following the announcement of Marvel’s new “Icon” imprint is with the name itself. The comics industry is often a trademark minefield that’s difficult to navigate safely, so any new name has to be carefully chosen.

The first trademark question that popped up was about the character Icon, who starred in his own series for several years during the 1990’s, produced for Milestone Media mostly by Dwayne McDuffie and M.D. Bright. Wasn’t Marvel’s Icon an infringement on his name? Maybe not. One of the key aspects of trademarks is that they expire if you don’t use them. Icon was cancelled several years ago, and the one collected edition is no longer in print. Marvel could (and presumably does) argue that Milestone and DC (the company that published the series) have abandoned the trademark. (Ironically, “Icon” was Milestone’s second choice for the character’s name. McDuffie wanted to call him “Paragon”… but there was a trademark conflict.)

Another possible conflict is Icon Comics. I know nothing about this publisher at this point except the logos Rich Johnston posted in his rumour column Lying in the Gutters. Given the fact that both are the names of publishing imprints, it seems like a pretty strong argument that Marvel’s use of it could lead to “confusion in the marketplace”. The similarity of the logos could compound that.

The logo similarities probably doesn’t indicate that Marvel deliberately stole the name and imagery from the other publisher, however. It’s just as easily explained by the concept of the name itself. An icon is a graphic symbol. Although its modern meaning refers mostly to computers, and its earlier meeting evokes totems of Roman Catholic worship, the idea also dates back to Pharoahic Egypt. If you want an icon for “Icon” and you don’t want to risk infringing on computer operating systems or offending some of your Christian readers, Egyptian symbols make sense.

I don’t know if either of these parties is actually pursuing legal action against Marvel. I doubt Marvel decided on the name “Icon” and this logo without first running it past their legal counsel, so they presumably think it’s safe. But like Icon himself, there’s plenty of historical precedent for a comics property having to change its name before going to press.

-ยป put it away

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