Barbie’s Trademarks: A Story of Fashion, Fun and Fame

Barbie is one of the most iconic and beloved dolls in the world. Since her debut in 1959, she has inspired generations of girls and boys to dream big and express themselves through fashion, play and adventure. But did you know that Barbie is also a powerhouse of trademarks? In this blog, we will explore some of the fascinating aspects of Barbie’s trademark history and how they reflect her evolution as a cultural phenomenon.

Barbie doll with bangs in a pink shirt

Barbie is one of the most iconic and beloved dolls in the world. Since her debut in 1959, she has inspired generations of girls and boys to dream big and express themselves through fashion, play and adventure. But did you know that Barbie is also a powerhouse of trademarks? In this blog, we will explore some of the fascinating aspects of Barbie’s trademark history and how they reflect her evolution as a cultural phenomenon.

What is a trademark?

A trademark is a word, name, symbol, design or any combination of these that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods or services from those of others. Trademarks help consumers recognize the quality, reputation and origin of the products or services they buy. Trademarks also protect the rights and interests of the owners who invest time, money and creativity in developing their brands.

How many trademarks does Barbie have?

The short answer is “a lot.” A slightly longer answer is “it depends.” If we are only counting trademarks that contain some variation of BARBIE in the name, there are currently 61 fully registered and active trademarks for Barbie, and there has been 170 registered trademarks, if you include the ones that are no longer active. Add in the trademarks that either haven’t registered yet or never became registered, and that number jumps to 337. But even that only tells a part of the story. To know the full number Barbie’s trademarks, you would need to know all of her sub-brands, like SPRING ZING, PINK COLLECTION, INSPIRING WOMEN, etc. Some of these trademarks include:

  • BARBIE

  • BARBIE DREAMHOUSE

  • PRINCESS ADVENTURE

  • YOU CAN BE ANYTHING

  • FLIGHT OF FASION

  • INSPIRING WOMEN

  • FASHIONISTAS

  • HELLO DREAMHOUSE

Mattel also owns trademarks for Barbie’s family, friends and pets, such as:

  • KEN

  • STACIE

  • TERESA

  • NIKKI

  • RAQUELLE

In addition to words and names, Mattel also owns a number of trademarks for logos, slogans and designs that are associated with Barbie.

When did Barbie get her first trademark?

The first trademark registration for Barbie was filed by Mattel on July 2, 1958 for “BARBIE” as a word mark for dolls in Class 028 (Toys and Sporting Goods Products). The registration number was 689,055 and it was issued on December 1, 1959. Click here to view the registration certificate on file with the USPTO.

Since then, Mattel has filed and obtained numerous trademark registrations for Barbie in different classes, countries and languages. For example, Mattel registered “BARBIE” in Chinese characters (“芭比”) in China in 1999 and it was recognized as a well-known trademark in 2004. Mattel also registered “BARBIE” in the United Kingdom in 1964 in Class 025 for clothing.

Why are trademarks important for Barbie?

Trademarks are important for Barbie because they help her maintain her distinct identity, reputation and goodwill in the global market. Trademarks also enable Mattel to prevent unauthorized use or imitation of Barbie’s name, logo or image by others who might try to confuse or deceive consumers or take advantage of her popularity.

Trademarks also allow Mattel to license Barbie’s name and image to other companies or individuals who want to create products or services that are related to or inspired by Barbie. For example, Mattel has licensed Barbie’s name and image to:

  • Netflix for the animated series “Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures”

  • Warner Bros. for the live-action movie “Barbie” starring Margot Robbie

  • ColourPop for a makeup collection

  • Levi’s for a denim collection

  • Puma for a sneaker collection

  • Oreo for a cookie edition

  • and many more!

By licensing Barbie’s trademarks, Mattel can expand her reach and influence to new audiences and industries, while also generating revenue and enhancing her brand value.

What are some of the challenges or controversies that Barbie has faced regarding her trademarks?

Like any successful and famous brand, Barbie has faced some challenges and controversies regarding her trademarks over the years. Some of these include:

  • In 1997, Mattel sued MCA Records for trademark infringement and dilution over the song “Barbie Girl” by the Danish pop group Aqua. Mattel claimed that the song tarnished Barbie’s image and reputation by portraying her as a “blonde bimbo”. MCA counter-sued Mattel for defamation and unfair competition, claiming that the song was a parody and protected by the First Amendment. The case was dismissed by the district court in 1998 and affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2002. The court famously stated: “The parties are advised to chill.”

  • In 1999, Mattel sued a Utah artist named Tom Forsythe for trademark infringement and dilution over his photographic series “Food Chain Barbie”, which depicted Barbie dolls in various domestic and culinary settings, such as wrapped in tortillas, covered in chocolate or blended in a mixer. Mattel claimed that the series harmed Barbie’s image and sales. Forsythe argued that his work was a critique of Barbie’s role in consumer culture and gender stereotypes and protected by fair use. The case was dismissed by the district court and affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003. The court ruled that Forsythe’s work was transformative and non-commercial and did not harm Mattel’s market.

  • In 2004, Mattel sued MGA Entertainment for trademark infringement and breach of contract over the Bratz dolls, which were designed by a former Mattel employee who allegedly used Mattel’s resources and confidential information to create them. Mattel claimed that it owned the rights to the Bratz concept and demanded at least $1 billion in damages and the exclusive ownership of the Bratz line. MGA counter-sued Mattel for defamation, unfair competition and trade secret theft. The case went through several trials and appeals, with both sides winning and losing at different stages. In 2011, a jury awarded MGA $88.5 million in damages for Mattel’s misappropriation of trade secrets, while rejecting Mattel’s claims of ownership and infringement. The court also ordered Mattel to pay MGA’s legal fees, which amounted to over $300 million.

  • Most recently, Mattel has opposed a trademark for BRBY from Burberry, claiming that Burberry’s filed mark will cause confusion in the marketplace. The opposition in this case is currently ongoing, and we are very interested in seeing what happens.

What are some of the lessons or tips that we can learn from Barbie’s trademark history?

As a trademark law firm, we admire and respect Barbie’s trademark history and achievements. We think that there are some valuable lessons or tips that we can learn from her experience, such as:

  • Register your trademarks early and often. Mattel filed for Barbie’s name when the doll was still in preproduction, which gave them priority and protection over others who might want to use it later. Mattel also registered Barbie’s name in different classes, countries and languages, which gave them broader coverage and recognition.

  • Protect your trademarks vigorously and strategically. Mattel has defended Barbie’s name, logo and image from unauthorized use or imitation by others who might infringe or dilute her brand. Mattel has also licensed Barbie’s name and image to reputable partners who can create products or services that are consistent with her brand values and vision.

  • Adapt your trademarks to changing times and trends. Mattel has updated Barbie’s name, logo and image to reflect her evolution as a doll, a role model and a cultural icon. Mattel has also created new trademarks for Barbie’s family, friends and adventures that appeal to different generations, markets and interests.

Conclusion

Barbie is more than just a doll. She is a brand, a phenomenon and a legend. Her trademark history is a story of fashion, fun and fame that spans over six decades and continues to inspire millions of fans around the world. As a trademark law firm, we are proud to celebrate Barbie’s trademarks and share some of the insights that we have learned from her experience.

If you have any questions or comments about this blog or about trademarks in general, please feel free to contact us. We would love to hear from you!