Not a Super Parody: Judge Refuses to Dismiss "Superdad" Infringement Lawsuit

Parody, schmarody says one judge. A judge, questionable of defendant’s parody defense, refused to dismiss DC Comics’ lawsuit for counterfeiting and trademark infringement over a shirt that features the word “dad” in a Superman-styled logo.
The first story of Superman was published back in 1938 and since that time he has sported different but similar versions of the Superman logo. The logo is iconic and features the letter “S” in a five-sided diamond.  Over the years the colors have changed but mostly remain yellow and red. There is no doubt that the logo is one of the most famous and endearing trademarks in the world. The Superman logo can be seen on about every product imaginable and DC Comics owns several registered trademarks for the logo and copyright registrations for the design.
Defendant, Mad Engine, Inc., is a California apparel company that sells product to such retailers such as Target, Walmart and Amazon.com. On its website, Mad Engine claims that it is a leading licensed apparel wholesaler of many famous brands including Star Wars and Marvel Comics but not so when it comes to DC Comics products. Mad Engine started distributing, without permission from DC Comics,  its “dad” shirt that is an obvious play of of the Superman logo. DC Comics also has its own licensed “Super Dad” shirt that can be seen to the right in the image below and says defendant’s logo is infringement of the Superman logo.
Hoping to avoid a long and costly battle, Mad Engine made a motion to dismiss the Complaint claiming that Superdad is an “obvious parody” of the Superman logo and therefore not likely to confuse consumers as to the source or affiliation of its product. Defendant argues that putting “DAD” into a superhero shield is making fun of Superman by pointing out Superman’s “undue self-importance.” Hmmm, not that funny of a joke and the Court agreed. The Court, in denying the motion to dismiss the Complaint, stated that there is no lampooning of Superman by making a play on “Superman” with “Superdad.” Defendant’s shirt is saying something like, “My dad is like Superman — he’s Superdad.” So, Defendant’s shirt is more a humorous use to promote the t-shirt’s sales rather than a parody of Superman. Since DC Comics has their own similar shirts there is less of an argument for parody and more likely that there would be confusion.
As a result of the Court’s denial of the motion to dismiss, the defendant must answer the Complaint and the case will move into discovery. While the decision is not determinative of the final judgment by the Court, defendant can’t be optimistic about where this case is going. Without the parody defense, Defendant does not have much of a defense, especially since it ignored DC Comics’ cease and desist letters prior to the filing of the case.  Superdad can’t be too super today.
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