Writing Around Trademarks

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
What If Marvel didn't use a cheesy pun?

You have a great idea for a character name! The problem is someone else has found out. And that someone else had the idea first. And they used it... a long, long time ago. Like, before you were born. The character may not even be that well-known (or known at all) today. Too bad—you missed your chance. Better change the name before airtime, or you'll find yourself knee deep in the paperwork of a trademark infringement lawsuit.

If word gets out online, the original name may still be used by the fans. Efforts to have this listed as a violation of intellectual property are no doubt pending. However, certain uses are (at least in the United States) covered under what are known as Fair Use Laws.

The same reasoning behind many a Stealth Pun.

Contrast Captain Ersatz, where the writers are trying to use an already existing character but can't. See also Bland-Name Product, You Wanna Get Sued?, Lawyer-Friendly Cameo, AKA-47, and Clumsy Copyright Censorship.

Examples of Writing Around Trademarks include:

Anime and Manga

  • Zoro in One Piece underwent a name change to Zolo to avoid setting off the trademark owners of the name "Zorro". This still works since the Japanese phonetic system makes the two names homophones.
  • This is the reason why the Japanese phenomenon Pocket Monsters was renamed Pokémon in the west. Of course, it was already an abbreviation in Japan and pretty much everyone over there already called it that.
    • Specifically, there was an arcade game called Monsters in my Pocket.
  • While he's always Jeep in the manga, the anime version of Cho Hakkai's cute little dragon/car was creatively renamed Hakuryu ("white dragon") for the anime versions.
  • Lupin III was renamed to Edgar when the series aired in France because of complaints from the estate of Maurice Leblanc, the author of the original Arsène Lupin stories. The trademark problems are also notoriously the reason for why the show never came to the US for so long. The few Lupin films that did leak out of Japan substituted names like "Rupan" and "Wolf" to get around it.
    • And as the story goes, Maurice Leblanc and Arsene Lupin ironically invoke this themselves, as Arthur Conan Doyle thought Lupin's nemesis, an Expy of Sherlock Holmes, was a little too close to this trope than that one.
  • The American dub of Rockman.exe (Mega Man NT Warrior in the west) changed the net-navi Aqua Man's name to Spout Man. Unarguably to avoid invoking the other guy's name. While Aqua Man kept his name in both Mega Man 8 and the Battle Network games, it seemed best to avoid using the name on TV.
    • The name change also applied into the sixth (and last) Battle Network game.
  • Really weird example in Bakuman。: The manga is about two manga artists working for the (real-life) magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump, from the company Shūeisha, and this trope is averted because it's published in that actual magazine. However, the anime changes the name of the magazine to Weekly Shōnen Jack from Yūeisha (even when there show up real-life editors of the magazine that keep their name in the anime). You'd expect Shūeisha to grant them rights to use the trademarks when negotiating the anime adaptation, right?

Comic Books

  • The reason why Marvel Comics makes sure to publish a comic with a character named Captain Marvel in it at least once every few years is so that the trademark doesn't lapse and DC Comics can't swoop in and use it with their Captain Marvel (purchased from Fawcett Comics) -- the original Captain Marvel. This is also why every single series featuring the real Captain Marvel has to go by "Shazam" instead.
    • This has applied to several other Marvel characters: Spider Woman, Warlock and Penance for example.
  • John Byrne intended to have a character named Dreadface appear in the Next Men comic as an exaggeration of the type of name Marvel Comics gave characters. A few months before the character was due to make his first appearance, an issue of Fantastic Four came out featuring a character called Dreadface. The Next Men character was hurriedly renamed.
  • A Batman/Punisher crossover introduced a villain who later turned up in Nightwing. The writers dealt with the "where I met this guy before" story by having Nightwing have a rare memory lapse about 'the other guy' ("Out-of-town psycho vigilante. Want to say 'the Puncturer'?")
    • Even if Word of God claims that a comic crossover is "In Continuity," the characters involved will never speak of it again for legal reasons.
      • They did get away with it concerning that very same crossover, though with the other guy in the Batsuit - Jean-Paul Valley, in his dementia, actually names Jigsaw (a major Punisher villain) as one of those who put away. It's still in the Knights End trade paperbacks!
  • One of the characters in Rising Stars originally had the superhero name "Flagg" until somebody noticed the previous use of that name in Howard Chaykin's American Flagg. J. Michael Straczynski settled the matter amicably with Chaykin, and wrote the name change into the comic, having the character renamed "Patriot" by his corporate sponsors because "some guy named Chaykin had the rights to 'Flagg'".
  • A Spawn villain named "Overkill" was renamed "Overtkill" for this reason.
  • Milestone Comics' villain "Holocaust" from Blood Syndicate was forced to have his name changed because of the X-Men villain of the same name. The change occured at the end of a miniseries featuring the character, My Name is Holocaust; the last scene had the character agreeing to have his name changed for the sake of publicity, and the last line was "Your name is Pyre."
  • In the Youngblood team's first appearance, Badrock's codename was "Bedrock". One legal threat from Time-Warner later, the name was changed.
  • Dark Angel (Marvel Comics) was originally Hell's Angel, but was renamed in response to legal threats from a certain 1%'er motorcycle gang.


  • The producers of the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Eraser had to spend several thousand dollars to rename (by changing every instance in the negatives, as well as re-dubbing dialog) the corporation which the Big Bad led that had committed contractor fraud from Cyrex to Cyrez, as it turned out there was a real corporation, microprocessor manufacturer Cyrix, with an incredibly similar name to what they originally used.
  • As Wham-O still owns the trademark on the word "Frisbee", this has led to several entities having to dodge the term.
    • The makers of The Secret of NIMH had to change the main character's name from the original Frisby to Brisby.
    • The Simpsons episode A Tale of Two Springfields has Bart refer to a "Novelty Flying Disc".
    • This was played with a bit in SpongeBob SquarePants, where SpongeBob and Patrick decide to play a game of Small Plastic Disk That You Throw (Small Plastic Disk That You Toss for short).
    • Pretty much any non-Wham-O entities who seek to sell or distribute their own version of a tossable pie-tin has to do this. Summer Fun Disc is what Burger King called the toy in its (equivalent of) "Happy Meals" in the 1990s.
      • And don't dare call those chocolate sandwich cookies "Oreos"...
  • In the film Idiocracy, all water, drinks, milk and liquids in the world, with the one exception of Toilet Water, has been replaced by a fictional green sports drink, Brawndo, the Thirst Mutilator!. They use it to water plants, feed babies, you name it. Although the brand was fictional, it is mentioned that it "tastes like Gatorade".
    • According to Mike Judge, they had originally planned to use Gatorade, but Gatorade didn't want to be associated with the film, especially since they would play such a major role in the plot. And thus the fictional Brawndo was born.
  • In the original script drafts for the first Back to The Future, the time machine (then conceptualized as a refrigerator) was powered by Coca-Cola, not the Flux Capacitor. This plays on the secrecy of the Coke formula.
  • Sparks of controversy often flare up on the Internet regarding the title controversy of James Cameron's Avatar and the live-action adaptation of the TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender, with the latter film simply being titled The Last Airbender. Despite popular belief, legal action was not involved in the title change—Cameron has no more right to the word "Avatar" than Nickelodeon—but both parties agreed that their films could be hurt by the name confusion and Nickelodeon, having an alternative title to fall back on, decided to change their film's name.
  • When trying to provide a cliche name for the chain diner in Ghost World Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes had to go through a couple dozen possibilities before they found one not currently in use by a real restaurant.
  • An early scene from Monsters, Inc. featured Sully and Mike running into obvious Godzilla knock-off Ted on their way to work. According to the director's DVD Commentary, the original plan was to give a full Shout-Out complete with roar, but since they couldn't get the okay to do so, they went the other way and played the Rule of Funny. You see a large reptilian leg but hear a giant chicken.


  • Michael McGarrity's Hermit's Peak had a fake company with a name that had been researched as unused... then it turned out to be used. A second printing changed the name.
  • Completely and utterly inverted in Jennifer Government, which is absolutely packed with real company names used in a context ranging from neutral to highly unflattering. For example, early in the book Nike hires a hitman to artificially drive up the desirability of their shoes (by killing people for them, not by wearing them).
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe has a weird meta-example. Tales of the Jedi comic series featured a story arc The Tale of Nomi Sunrider and the eponymous character went off to become pretty important (as in "Head of the Jedi Order in the current era"-important), as did her relatives. However, a real-life company came up with a claim for "Sunrider" and Lucasfilm reacted enough for some legal issues to arise. For the following years Sunrider family was pretty much forgotten and most notably suspiciously absent from the Knights of the Old Republic video game, which references about everything else from the TOTJ series. (Most prominently, the character eventually named Bastila Shan was originally supposed to be Vima Sunrider, an established character from TOTJ.) Lately,[when?] however, Lucasfilm clarified that the agreement was reached that allowed Sunriders to appear and be mentioned within stories themselves, as long as the name does not appear in the title of the work in any way.
  • Partially averted in Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities, where characters ride around in BMWs and Mercedes but eat at "Texas Fried Chicken" and use their "Global Express" charge cards to pay for things.

Live-Action TV

  • In a slightly bizarre reversal of this trope, The Six Million Dollar Man once featured a villain named Barney Miller. Later, an unrelated cop show called Barney Miller hit the airwaves, and became so popular that when producers of The Six Million Dollar Man brought back their villain, they decided to Retcon his name to "Barney Hiller" to avoid confusion with the later, but better-known, character.
  • Star Trek has an instance of writing around a trademark involving itself. Tom Paris of Star Trek: Voyager is highly similar to a character named Nick Locarno from Star Trek: The Next Generation, both Starfleet cadets who were dishonorably discharged after causing a fatal accident and both portrayed by Robert Duncan McNeill. The writers said that they wanted to use Locarno, but since he was unrepentant for his actions (despite the fact that Locarno in the end willingly shouldered full blame for the incident, so that his co-conspirators could remain in Starfleet), they devised the Paris character, highly similar but actually regretful for his mistakes. McNeill himself suggests that the switch was made to avoid paying royalties to the writers who created Locarno. Other theories suggest that the character was rewritten around McNeill's questionable availability, with McNeill committing too late to revert to the original character.
    • Sounds more like a Captain Ersatz.
    • Star Trek does this a lot. Alexander Enberg's character Vorik is identical in every way to his previous character named Taurik.
  • Parodied in an episode of Frasier, in which Roz comes up with a great idea for a children's story and manages to sell it to a publisher—unfortunately, it turns out that the idea she's given them was Heidi, which her mother used to read to her as a child. And the reason that her publisher didn't pick up on it is that he's younger than she is.
  • The Doctor Who story "The Green Death" featured an evil corporation called Global Chemicals. In the novelisation, they were Panorama Chemicals, because the real Global Chemicals complained.
    • Elsewhere in the Whoniverse, Bill and Ben Video produced a line of direct-to-video films featuring alumns from Doctor Who, often playing Captain Ersatz versions of the roles they'd previously held. The video Shakedown features the return of the Sontarans. One character is familiar with them from a previous adventure (which would later be recounted in an Expanded Universe novel of the same name), where they had been defeated by a travelling Time Lord whose name the character can't remember. The Dentist, or something.
    • BBV also produced a series of audio dramas starring Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred as "The Professor" and "Ace" ("Professor" had been Ace's nickname for The Doctor). The BBC did not find this sufficient, so they were eventually renamed The Dominie and Alice.
    • The makers of the Australian-made spin-off series K9 have the rights to K9, but not to anything else in the Whoniverse. Consequentially, seconds after K9 is introduced, he is badly damaged, erasing most of his memory. Didn't stop them from sneaking in (clearly visible) drawings of a Sea Devil, a Mandrel and an Alpha Centauran in the episode "Curse of Anubis" though.
      • On a related factoid, that series is also why K9 was only allowed cameos in Series 1 and 2 of The Sarah Jane Adventures; when it was made clear that the two series featured different K9 models,[1] K9 was allowed to have bigger roles in Series 3 of Sarah Jane.
  • Bizarrely averted in an episode of Quantum Leap where a naval officer was named Riker. His rank? Commander... Even stranger when you consider that Star Trek: TNG was still running when the episode first aired. Most likely a Shout-Out.
  • In 1971, NRK-TV introduced a nameless marionette and asked the viewers to name it. After it had became famous as "Titten Tei", Andre von Drei, the freelance designer who had retained the rights to his work but was not involved in the naming, tried selling duplicates of the marionette as "TV Doll".
  • One episode of Law and Order concerned a mass killing at a bar called "The Velvet Room". Unfortunately there was an actual bar by that name in New York, and the owners sued. As part of the settlement, NBC overdubbed every mention of the name as "The Vivant Room".
  • Castle:
    • One episode had an extended discussion about roofies without ever using the drug's trademark name "Rohypnol", everyone used the drug's non-trademarked generic name of "flunitrazepam".
    • In another episode, Castle's agent tells him that he might be about to get an offer to write books about "a certain British spy" who uses lots of gadgets. Everyone manages to get through the entire episode without actually saying "James Bond"; In-Universe, it's because they're trying not to jinx the contract.
    • There was also an episode where Alexis is setting up a profile for Martha on a popular social networking site; Martha tells Castle that she's getting a "Myface" account. Castle starts to say "It's actually called-", but Alexis cuts him off before he can say the name, saying "Don't bother, I've been correcting her all morning". By playing on Martha's eccentricity and unfamiliarity with technology, they manage to write several scenes in which the site is discussed without ever saying the real (and trademarked) name.
  • Lampshaded in The Colbert Report's 2010 Olympic coverage Vancouverage.
  • The Red Dwarf episode "Kryten" featured a joke about how a crew of long-dead women (who were basically skeletons with clothes and hair) had "less meat on them than a Chicken McNugget." The producers muted the "Mc" before broadcast to avoid litigation from McDonald's, and the edit remained on all home video releases except the Special Edition.
  • The MythBusters once tested some tropes associated with Nocturnal-Echo-Locating-Flying-Mammal-Man.

Jamie: Batman?
Adam: Yeah. Shhh!

    • On the other hand, many movies, TV shows, etc. are explicitly referenced (with occasional clips) in the show; an entire episode was even devoted to myths based on MacGyver.
    • However, in general, the MythBusters genericize (read: cover the labels of) all the products they use in their testing. The only exception they made was in the "Diet Coke and Mentos" experiment, which centered on those specific brands.


  • The band Green Jellö were enjoined to change their name by Kraft Foods, makers of Jell-O. They changed their name to Green Jellÿ... which is still pronounced "Jello".
  • The Kinks' "Lola", in some of its releases, alters the line "when you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola" to "cherry cola" because the BBC wouldn't play the song if it mentioned a commercial product.
  • Post-Waters Pink Floyd couldn't use the Pig trademark anymore, because Roger claimed it was his idea and he was the copyright holder. So, they simply added testicles to it.
  • When The Jackson 5 were signed to Motown records, the company was nice enough to trademark their name. When they eventually left the label for more creative control, they were forced to rename themselves and became The Jacksons.
  • The band Relient K is named after the car they use—a Plymouth Reliant K -- but to avoid trademark issues, they just changed the spelling.
  • The punk band "Redd Kross" started life as "Red Cross", with the expected symbol as their logo... until the International Red Cross informed them that they were potentially violating the Geneva Conventions, and United States law, by using a "protected symbol" on anything other than a medical facility.
  • Thousands of businesses, bands, and other organizations have tried to add the name "Olympics" to their group name. Some even have the audacity to justify a particularly mercenary form of intellectual property theft by claiming that the public's view of the Olympic Games will somehow be "improved" by being associated with a pizza joint or obscure indie band. "Olympics" is, however, a trademark of the local Olympic organizing committee, and if you think Amazon is tough on copyright scofflaws...
  • In 1974, Camel recorded their only instrumental concept album, Music Inspired by The Snow Goose, a top fan choice, and often regarded as their greatest accomplishment. The qualifier "Music Inspired by..." was included in the title as a result of legal threats by Paul Gallico, author of the short story on which it was based. Plans to include narration or write a few lyrics, which could have brought the album closer to being considered legally as a derivative work, were also excluded largely a result of this.[2] Camel also spent some time at lawsuits drawn over the cover graphics on the album prior to that, Mirage, which were inspired by the Camel cigarette packet design. Legal thrusts from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco lead on to abortive talks on cross-promotion and sponsorship, and eventually no action was taken and Camel just avoided using such graphics in later releases.
  • In 2006, the supergroup Supernova was formed after picking a lead singer via the reality show / singing competition Rock Star. However, an already-existing band of that name (best known for "Chewbacca" from the Clerks soundtrack) was granted an injunction against them. Since they couldn't entirely abandon a name that was already so heavily promoted, the band named themselves after their season of the show and became Rock Star Supernova.

Professional Wrestling

  • In the late 1990s, Vince McMahon had the brilliant idea to introduce a wrestling vampire named Gangrel. It was a great idea...that White Wolf already had when making the Gangrel vampire clan in Vampire: The Masquerade. WWE (then the WWF) was able to get a deal that kept his name for the small token of putting White Wolf's name at the beginning of every broadcast (and video game) he appeared in.
    • Speaking of which, the WWE used to be the WWF, but it changed its name after a suit by the World Wildlife Fund (they used to have an agreement, but it went sour); all previous mentions of "WWF" were bleeped out from old clips. Also, the "scratch" version of the WWF logo is blurred out of clips, since it was specifically named in the lawsuit, but the original logo was allowed to remain. Old mentions of the "World Wrestling Federation" are allowed to stand as well; it's only when it's referred to as the "WWF" that it gets bleeped.
    • When Gangrel showed up years later on Raw in a one-off appearance, White Wolf sued WWE for trying to infringe upon their trademark; they lost due to the fact that they couldn't prove that the usage of the name for that one-shot appearance was enough to be infringing.
      • And in the recently released WWE Encyclopedia, his entry is "David Heath (Known in WWE as Gangrel)".
      • Also in the encyclopedia, one time flagship TV show "Superstars of Wrestling" goes unmentioned in the TV timeline, presumably due to the issues surrounding THAT trademark. Why they didn't use the alternate name "Superstars" is unknown. This same dispute means that "Superstars of Wrestling" banners are blurred and episodes of the show itself tend not to be shown until the "of wrestling" was dropped.
      • Must have used all their Mentioning Taboo Points when they gave an entry to Chris Benoit.
  • That wasn't the first such occurrence of this trope for what was once the World Wrestling Federation. Vince's star performer for many years was originally billed as "The Incredible Hulk Hogan". Of course, Marvel Comics had a few not-entirely-pleasant things to say about that. Ever since then, Marvel Comics has had joint ownership of the Hulk Hogan trademark.
    • Which is why, when WCW hired Hogan in the mid-'90s, they used the New World Order angle to change his full ring name to "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan; the announcers routinely just dropped the "Hulk" part of his name and called him "Hollywood Hogan", which meant Marvel didn't see as many royalties.
      • A similar incident ocurred with WCW, who introduced a character called "Arachniman", who dressed in a yellow-and-purple colored costume. Needless to say, Marvel was not amused.
  • Since the advent of TNA and the various independent promotions in the United States, the names of wrestlers who jump ship from one promotion to another can often change because of trademark claims. One of the most famous subversions of this is Jay Reso: while employed by WWE, he was known as Christian. When he left the company, thanks to owning the trademark to his pre-WWE name—Christian Cage—he was able to use that name elsewhere. (When he returned to WWE, he dropped the "Cage" and went back to just "Christian".) Other examples:
    • When the Dudley Boys went to TNA, they were forced to give up the Dudley name because WWE owned practically every ECW-related trademark and copyright; they became Team 3D (named after their finisher, which was originally called the Dudley Death Drop). Bubba Ray and Devon became Brother Ray and Brother Devon, and (during his brief stint in the company) Little Spike Dudley became Brother Runt.
    • TNA does this with some incoming wrestlers in order to be able to exclusively own the trademark to a ring name (in some cases, this also allows a wrestler to keep their independent circuit ring name). Amusingly enough, the best examples of this were all part of their women's division: Awesome Kong (Amazing Kong elsewhere), Velvet Sky and Angelina Love (Talia Madison and Angel Williams, respectively), Madison Rayne (Lexi Lane or Ashley Lane), and Roxxi Laveaux (Nikki Roxx).
      • "Awesome Kong" was also the name of a male wrestler from Texas who had a brief WCW run in 1993 with partner "King Kong" as "The Colossal Kongs."
    • Like the aforementioned Dudley Boys, almost all of TNA's August 2010 Pay-Per-View Hardcore Justice is filled with Writing Around Trademarks. To name a few examples, the ECW alumni are always referred to as EV 2.0, the promotion they became famous in is referred to only as "the Philadelphia promotion", wrestler Justin Credible is referred to only as P.J Polaco (his real name), and two members of the FBI (which they interestingly were able to use) were called "Tony Luke" (Tony Mamaluke) and Guido Maritato (Little Guido in ECW).
  • A quickly resolved trademark dispute (apparently initiated by former promoter Jim Crockett) led to WWE briefly referring to Ric Flair as "Rick Flair."
  • An interesting reverse is the case of one of WCW main faces Sting, Steve Borden had actually purchased the trademark before the more widely known singer had. This means that every performance the singer gives he has to pay a royalty to Borden for use of the name (Steve isn't a dick about it and its apparently a token amount like 1$)
  • Kurt Angle's finisher was originally called the Olympic Slam. Eventually, it became known as the Angle Slam.
  • Billy Jack was required to change his name to Billy Haynes, and eventually Billy Jack Haynes, after Tom Laughlin threatened legal action for using the same name as Laughlin's movie character. The in universe explanation was that Billy wanted to honor his father's name once he won the Pacific Northwest title.

Tabletop Games

Card Games

  • The Legend of the Five Rings card game suffered from this big time when the International Olympic Committee decided to enforce its ownership of five linked rings. The cards have a different back now, and you have to use sleeves if you want to use old and new cards...

Tabletop RPGs

  • A Tolkien-related lawsuit was the reason why Dungeons & Dragons has Balors instead of Balrogs and treants instead of Ents. Hobbits were renamed to halflings, which is apparently OK even though The Lord of the Rings uses it as a synonym for hobbits. (the word "halfling" existed before Tolkien's works, however) At least in earlier editions, the D&D Halflings still bear a much-too-close resemblance to Tolkien's Hobbits, particularly with their division into Hairfoots, Tallfellows and Stouts (with Tolkien's Hobbits being Harfoots, Fallohides and Stoors).
    • It's hard to tell whether it's an Homage, deliberate insult, Lampshade Hanging or drying up well of creativity, but the 4e Monster Manual illustration of a treant looks exactly like Treebeard as shown in Ralph Bakshi's version of the movies.
    • The Deities & Demigods book had to be revised when the owners of trademarked deities complained. The Cthulhu Mythos was believed to be in the public domain, so TSR assumed they could legally use it without any special permission. However, Arkham House, which held the copyright on most Cthulhu books had already licensed the Cthulhu property to the game company Chaosium. They were required to provide a credit to the game company Chaosium. Later they removed Cthulhu and several other gods so as to not contain such an overt reference to one of their competitors. For this reason, the first and second printings have generally been in greater demand by D&D fans and collectors.
      • Same scenario with Michael Moorcock's Melinbonean mythos, except that TSR actually did get permission from Moorcock beforehand. Moorcock apparently had forgotten that Chaosium already held the license to those characters when he gave TSR the go-ahead to use them.
    • What's New with Phil and Dixie cartoon for TSR's Dragon magazine included a trip to the legal department. The staff there was very choosy with words: "Have you seen my engagment 'circular metal band?'" "The phone is 'circular metal banding'!!" At which point Phil's avatar asks "Are you still having trouble with the Tolkien estate?"
  • In an example on the other side of the halfling coin, SPI produced a role playing game called DragonQuest in 1980; when they went bankrupt in 1992, TSR picked it up and ran it as an alternate line to Dungeons and Dragons. Because of this, the Japanese RPG series Dragon Quest had to be renamed Dragon Warrior in North America until Square Enix finally secured the name in 2005.
  • When Greg Stafford brought a new game system (no longer Rune Quest) to Glorantha (with the help of Robin Laws), he wanted to name it HeroQuest based on the mighty mythical quests people went on to gain power. Unfortunately, the HeroQuest board game was still under trademark, and so Hero Wars came out instead. (Eventually, the trademarked lapsed and now there is a HeroQuest RPG, although it is generic and not limited to Glorantha.)
  • In one Open Gaming License product, 'mindflayers' and 'illithids' were referred to in the supplement as Brain-eating Tentacle-faced things.
    • The Fighting Fantasy gamebook series pulled a similar trick with its own versions of the mind flayers. To get around the TSR trademark, Ian Livingstone called his equivalents "Brain Slayers."

Toys and Scale Models

  • In Transformers, sometimes older characters' names are used and trademarked by companies other than Hasbro, so new versions of the character must be renamed. Trailbreaker has become "Trailcutter", Runabout is now "Over-Run", and for a long time Bluestreak was "Silverstreak" before Hasbro finally managed to get the "Bluestreak" trademark back. Ever since they realized this was happening (there was a long stretch when older characters were effectively never revisited, so nobody thought to check), Hasbro has used an assortment of tricks to try to prevent it:
    • Newer Transformers' names are typically nonsense words that are easier to defend as trademarks, preventing other companies from using them—it's not likely anyone else is going to try to trademark "Heavytread" or "Deadlift."
    • Older Transformers with names that haven't been lost yet but easily could be are usually slightly renamed into things that are easier to trademark, through the use of prefixes (recent toy versions of Ratchet and Tracks are technically named "Autobot Ratchet" and "Turbo Tracks") or Xtreme Kool Letterz (a new version of Scattershot was called "Scattorshot").
    • And once Hasbro grabs a name, any name, they make a point of using it as much as possible. Unicron Trilogy Megatron kept renaming himself to Galvatron and back so Hasbro could keep both names in active use. Similarly, new characters often have the same names as completely unrelated older characters just so Hasbro can have a claim to the name--Armada Perceptor had nothing whatsoever to do with Generation One Perceptor, but he helped hold on to the trademark until Hasbro decided years later to make a new Perceptor toy.
    • Essentially, any time a Transformer other than Downshift[3] seems to have a name that's "wrong," the reason for it is probably trademarks in one way or another.
    • In all advertising and packaging, his name isn't "Jazz". It's "Autobot Jazz".
  • When the Sylvanian Families toy line was relaunched in the United States, the distributor renamed the franchise Calico Critters because "Sylvania" happens to be the name of a manufacturer of electrical products. (Mercifully, the United States is the only country where they fell victim to this.)
  • Tamiya has an entire line of World War Two light vehicles without the manufacturers' names - the German (Volkswagen) Type 82 Kubelwagen, the British (Austin) 10 HP Utility, the US Army (Ford) Staff Car - while others like the Jeep MB and Citroen Traction Avant carry full manufacturers' licensing.
    • VW is notorious for not wanting its' products to be seen as war machines. At one point the enitre product line before 1948 was Canon Discontinuity.

Video Games

  • A famous example (though in terms of copyright rather than trademark) is the Jungle Hunt controversy. When Taito originally released the game (as Jungle King), it was an obvious take on the Tarzan stories and included the famous "Tarzan call" (which was a pretty impressive feat for the early 1980's). But...Taito got taken to court by the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs (original author of the books). Taito got tagged for Copyright Infringement, so they had to hack in some changes to please the courts. Tarzan and the yell were out, a British guy in stereotypical pith helmet and gear is in, and the result is Jungle Hunt.
  • Duke Nukem (of the video games) was briefly called Duke Nukum after someone discovered the Duke Nukem character in Captain Planet. It ultimately turned out the name wasn't trademarked, so the game character quickly went back to his original name.
  • Nintendo won a case against Universal Studios, who claimed to be the owners of King Kong, to keep the name Donkey Kong—a case helped by the fact that Universal didn't actually own King Kong at the time after all. Ironically, some 20 years later, Universal distributed Peter Jackson's King Kong remake.
  • City of Heroes has a side mission where you have to rescue a character who's an obvious pastiche of Doctor Strange. He was originally named Dr. Stephen Strangefate, after both Doctor Strange and similar DC character Doctor Fate. ... However, this had actually already been used in the comics as the name for the merged version of the two done under the Amalgam Comics imprint, so later versions changed his name to Doctor Fayte.
  • This is the reason why Super Robot Wars was localized as Super Robot Taisen in the West; they were worried about conflicts with Robot Wars.
  • Sonic and the Secret Rings was going to be called Sonic Wildfire but "Wildfire" had already been trademarked.
  • In the Punch-Out!! Wii game, Japanese boxer Piston Honda has had his name changed to Piston Hondo. One of his dialogues was also rewritten for the Virtual Console release of the NES game. Still doesn't stop E. Honda... (though his name was altered to "Honde" in one Jackie Chan film featuring the game as a minor plot point). It's worth mentioning that Honda was a real Japanese surname long before the car company existed.
  • Lampshaded to hell and back in the Interactive Fiction game Toonesia. Bud Bunny, Elmer Fuld, Dizzy Duck. Oh, and the Tasmanian Devil. Which is OK because it's a real animal.
  • Later Resident Evil sequels feature weapons that look suspiciously like real-world guns...but have much more generic names.
    • The name "Resident Evil" itself came due to trademark issues surrounding the name Biohazard,[4] which led to Capcom staff holding an internal contest to rename the first game in the franchise prior to its US and European release.
  • The first installment of Sierra's Quest for Glory series was actually released as Hero's Quest, but was swiftly changed because of TSR's HeroQuest boardgame.
    • After the release of Quest for Glory III: Wages of War, Sierra's legal team found out that another videogame company had already trademarked the title "Wages of War." So Sierra made plans to reissue the game as Seekers of the Lost City (a nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark). Before the re-release was completed, though, the company that had trademarked Wages of War closed its doors. While QFG3 was never released with the new name, the QFG4 in-game documentation uses the revised QFG3 title in its descriptions of the prior installments.
    • Likewise, various Space Quest games featured stores like Droids-R-Us and Radio Shock, which were renamed in subsequent versions of the game after legal threats (to Droids-B-Us and Hz So Good, respectively).
    • The name Space Quest is also an example of this trope: After releasing the game Sierra found out the name was owned by the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. An agreement was made to pay a small fee to the museum, and from Space Quest IV on "Space Quest" gets a small space on the box while main character Roger Wilco is emphasized.
  • Silent Hill: Shattered Memories features a high school which is putting on a school production of... "Connie.
    • Unintentionally, that also evokes the (flopped) stage production of a certain, much more tone-appropriate novel.
  • Rockman X has The Dragon VAVA. Tell me that this guy doesn't remind you of anyone... So, when the series was released stateside as Mega Man X, he was Woolseys'd into becoming Vile. Subtle.
  • Scribblenauts has the same "Frisbee" problem as mentioned above. The item doesn't really have any other name in the public consciousness than that, but it goes with "Flying Disc."
    • The same goes with other properties: "Lightsaber" won't work, but "Laser sword" does.
  • Since Nintendo trademarked the word Wii, any game on the system trying for that name would have to do something similar, like We Cheer.
  • The Game of the Year edition of Plants vs. Zombies had to make a few changes. The Dancing Zombie was changed from an Homage to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" to a generic disco dancer with a Funny Afro, and the original Almanac entry for the Zomboni was replaced with a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer/Enforced Plug:

Not to be mistaken for a Zamboni® brand ice resurfacing machine. Zamboni® and the image of the ice resurfacing machine are registered trademarks of Frank J. Zamboni & Co., Inc., and "Zomboni" is used with permission. For all your non-zombie-related ice resurfacing needs, visit www.zamboni.com!

  • This trope is gloriously averted, along with No Celebrities Were Harmed, in Emo Game, with TV shows, brand names and celebrities being called out and skewered by name. It's a wonder that Jason Oda not only hasn't been sued, but is now being hired to make advergames for many of these companies.
    • Hey, free publicity is free publicity, right?
  • In Operation Darkness, Herbert West, the mad scientist with the ability to revive the other characters, had his surname altered to East for the English localization. The story is in the public domain, but given a legal incident with Dungeons & Dragons using Lovecraft's public-domain characters mentioned above, they probably wanted to be safe.
  • Mega Man Unlimited was originally called Mega Man 10 until Capcom made an actual Mega Man 10 in the series. Also, Trinitro Man was originally called Nitro Man, but was renamed to distinguish itself from the official one.
  • This was the reason Tales of Eternia was released as Tales of Destiny II in the US:[5] Mattel already had "Eternia" trademarked.
  • Wally Bear and The No Gang was originally supposed to be called the "Just Say No" Gang, but former first lady Nancy Reagan already trademarked the phrase.
  • When StarTropics II was rereleased on the Wii Virtual Console, the Tetrads were renamed "Blocks," since Nintendo no longer has the rights to Tetris.

Web Comics

  • Schlock Mercenary‍'‍s oft-quoted "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates" was changed to "Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries" after the author received a letter from the lawyers of Stephen Covey (the Real Life book is Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) about the trademark. Though a fair-use parody argument could be made, the author admitted he was glad for the excuse to make the Retcon because the original choice of title was admittedly lazy, the "seven habits" part was a Non Indicative Title since they number upwards of 30, and the new title opens more possibilities for The Merch - including a defictionalization of the book in 2017.
  • Jokingly used in Help Desk. Ubersoft has trademarked the concept of the OK Button, but another company has trademarked the term OK Button. So Ubersoft rewrites its software so that all OK Buttons are now Right On Switches.

Western Animation

  • Interestingly when Justice League writers created a character call Ichthultu, they only did this because they were unaware that Cthulu was a Public Domain character.
  • Because a character from The Flaming Carrot was already named Spongeboy, Nickelodeon changed the name to SpongeBob SquarePants.
  • Thorn was originally the name of Rose's alter ego on American Dragon: Jake Long. Turns out the dual identity "Rose and Thorn" already belonged to a DC superhero, and many episodes in the first season had to be re-recorded, changing the name "Thorn" to "Huntsgirl". Thorn is still used in plenty of Fora and Fan Fiction.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Sherri Bobbins of The Simpsons categorically denies that she is anything like Mary Poppins; she's an original creation like Ricky Rouse or Monald Muck.
    • Considering also Treehouse of Horror tale The Shinning, this is a recurring (if not running) gag.

Bart: You mean 'shining'?
Groundskeeper Willie: Shhh! Ya wanna get sued?!

    • In "The Otto Show"

Bart: Otto-Man? You're living in a dumpster?
Otto: Ho, man, I wish. Dumpster-brand trash bins are top-of-the-line. This is just a Trash-Co waste disposal unit.

    • Also the "Purple Submersible" in "Last Exit to Springfield", and Lisa in the Sky, but not with diamonds.
    • Heck, The Simpsons episode "The Day the Violence Died" is all about the problems caused by oversensitive copyright and trademark infringement litigation, and features this trope.
    • It pretty much is a running gag, the gag being how ridiculous it is to force people to conform to this trope (and the extra miles the show goes to make it blatantly obvious)
  • The Flintstones was originally called The Flagstones, but that name was already being used by the comic strip Hi and Lois.
  • Futurama's The Wizard of Oz Parody included the song We resemble but are legally distinct from the Lollipop Guild.
    • The Beetlejuice cartoon's own Oz spoof described the land that Dorothy Lydia lands in as "The Land of Public Domain." The Munchkins Beetles claim that they'd sing to Lydia, but that they weren't allowed, as one of them shows her the court order against doing so.
  • An odd case in My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Hasbro had allowed the trademarks on many of the '80s characters to lapse—including nearly all of the ones Lauren Faust wanted to use. Thus, the Mane Six are re-imagined versions of classic ponies redesigned and renamed after G3 ones—Pinkie Pie especially is a lot closer to her original G1 version, Surprise, than her G3 namesake, as is Rainbow Dash to Firefly. Oddly, the one that did get to be modeled on the intended G1 pony, Applejack, is very nearly an In Name Only version.
    • We also have Big Macintosh. The abbreviated version of his name is owned by McDonald's, so other characters can only say "Big Mac" sparingly, after they've already said the full "Big Macintosh" version in the same scene.
  • Supposedly, a threat from Blizzard Entertainment led the staff of Adventure Time to remove the Lich King's title and just call him The Lich.
  • Top Cat was known as Boss Cat in the United Kingdom as there was already a cat food brand called Top Cat. Only the on-screen title was changed (with a very rough cut to a very cheap-looking new title card), the theme tune lyrics continued to use "Top Cat".
  • In Rocko's Modern Life, "With Friends Like These", Rocko gets tickets for WWWWF... obviously to get around the WWF by simply adding more "W"s.

Real Life

  • Nissan Motor Company has its website at www.nissan-global.com because Nissan Computer already owned and used www.nissan.com (as well at .net), having registered it before the former got around to it. Nissan Motors sued, but unlike PETA and People Eating Tasty Animals, failed to get the domain transferred (the fact that Nissan Computer is an actual business, owned by someone actually named Mr. Nissan, helps).
  • TCBY was originally called This Can't Be Yogurt, but due to a lawsuit from competitor I Can't Believe It's Yogurt!, they later changed their initials to The Country's Best Yogurt.
  • The Debian Linux distribution re-branded Firefox as Iceweasel, because Mozilla owns the trademark and the logo, even though the browser is open source. The Debian team also re-branded Mozilla's other projects, Thunderbird and Seamonkey, as Icedove and Iceape for similar reasons. There are also other re-branded versions of Firefox floating around for use in open-source operating systems, such as Icecat and Abrowser (clever name on that last one, huh?)
    • Firefox was originally called "Phoenix", and then "Firebird", but changed the name because both of these were already in use for other software.
    • Mozilla owns the trademarks for the official names for their products to protect their own image. The Firefox brand can only be used with unmodified product. However, they are aware of the need for the FOSS community to be able to use their products unfettered, so they offer an easy way to compile versions of their products without trademark (which as seen above can then be renamed and relabeled at the desire of the distributor). The trademark-free version of Firefox keeps the Mozilla globe (which is free to distribute) and uses the particular version's code name, which is never trademarked.
    • Apparently CentOS is compiled from source code from "a prominent Enterprise Linux vendor", which is deliberately never named. We'll keep their identity under our red hat for trademark reasons as the source is open and free, but the trademarks are not.
  • Even Alan Simpson on Fox News fell into this trope while trying to preach a "Think of the Children" message.
  • Many businesses parodying the Pimp My Ride name were forced to do this after legal threats by Viacom, owner of the show and the "Pimp My" trademark. Pimp That Snack, for example, was once called Pimp My Snack.
  • Even with an ad that all but lampshaded that they were not the official airline for The You-Know What, a South African discount airline still got threatened by FIFA for trademark infringement, claiming that the imagery in their advertisement created an "unauthorized association" between them and the World Cup. With what FIFA ended up telling them, they were basically asserting a trademark on anything culturally related to South Africa, and even the word "South Africa", if used in connection to a reference to soccer. And then of course, they had to lampshade it further with their new ad.
  • In Britain, the T.J. Maxx department store chain is called T.K. Maxx to avoid confusion with TJ Hughes department stores.
  • Henry Deringer created a very popular type of pistol, but never patented any of its mechanics. This resulted in widespread copies, many labeled Derringer (though if it began as this or simple misspelling is unknown). The change is so widespread even the Derringer vs. Plate Supreme Court case (which established that yes, this was copyright infringement, even if it was done on the other side of the country) has his name incorrectly recorded with a double r.
  • The Komen Foundation, infamous for using breast cancer fund-raising as a means of promotion for a long list of its sponsors' consumer brands ("pinkwashing"), has trademarked variants of the (run, race, whatever) "... for the cure" phrase and likes to sue other, rival charities to prevent them from using any similar phrase – even if they're fund-raising for some other disease.
  • Cosplay troupes who dress up as Disney Princesses for children's parties tend to refer to the princesses generically, e.g. "The Ice Queen" or "Island Princess" for Elsa and Moana, respectively. While they can get away with using Cinderella, Rapunzel and Snow White's names directly, other princesses such as the aforementioned Elsa and Moana as well as Tiana, Merida and many others are protected by trademarks hence the need to mince their names somewhat, at least in their marketing; you wouldn't expect a kid to just greet Tiana as "I love you, New Orleans Princess!" for legal reasons, right?
  • The sport formerly known as Muggle Quidditch has been officially renamed as "Quadball" due to both trademark issues with Warner Bros., Scholastic, and J. K. Rowling who co-own the rights to the Wizarding World franchise, as well as in an effort by the more progressive sectors of the Harry Potter fan community to disassociate themselves from Rowling's unsavoury views towards transgender people.
  1. Sarah Jane has the Mark IV introduced in the Doctor Who episode "School Reunion", whereas Word of God on K9 states that the starring model is the Mark I, the original K9... who, seconds after first appearing, self-destructs and is rebuilt into an upgraded, sleeker form because of the licensing hooplah. Coincidentally, last time we saw the Mark I in Doctor Who, he was left on Gallifrey. Which would imply that he survived the Time Wars.
  2. In 1976, The Snow Goose, orchestrated by Ed Welch, narrated by Spike Milligan and featuring the London Symphony Orchestra, was released by RCA. Paul Gallico lived just long enough to help write it, but not hear it recorded. Those who know about it mostly do so via recountings of this very example, and the album itself has had three rather limited releases and never came anywhere near charting. Given that his initial opposition was apparently driven by antipathy to smoking and the supposition that Camel were named after the cigarettes (they weren’t, in spite of the Mirage cover design), it would appear that Gallico could have thought better of this.
  3. Armada had a fairly major character who in the US was named Wheeljack. Energon, a direct sequel to Armada, went on to unexpectedly introduce a character who looked essentially identical to G1 Wheeljack, but had no connection to the Armada character. Hasbro collectively sighed and called the Wheeljack lookalike "Downshift."
  4. In addition to being a commonly-used term that likely would have been difficult to meaningfully trademark, another video game (a 1992 game by the name of Bio-Hazard Battle, released in Japan as Crying: Aseimei Sensou) and a band were already using the name as well.
  5. It made things confusing when an actual Tales of Destiny 2 came out for the PlayStation 2