hasbro bumblebee

For Hasbro, there is only room for one Bumblebee on toy store shelves and that’s theirs.  With a solo ‘Bumblebee’ movie due in theaters next year, they want a monopoly on yellow and black action toys and are suing Mattel over the rights to the name, seeking to stop Mattel from selling playthings based on the DC Comics character of the same name, who is part of the DC Super Hero Girls initiative.  Hasbro seems particularly rankled over a LEGO set that features DC’s character, as they themselves have a building block set featuring their Robot In Disguise.

Hasbro applied to trademark the name Bumblebee on July 15, 2015, after Mattel announced the DC Super Hero Girls line, and the trademark was registered on Dec. 22, 2015 after the toys hit retailers.

While more people are familiar with the mute yellow Autobot, the DC Comics character in question is several years older. The superhero Bumblebee, real name Karen Beecher, premiered in 1977’s ‘Teen Titans’ #48.  She was DC’s first African American female hero.  Hasbro’s Transformers didn’t arrive in the U.S. until 1984.

But DC’s Bumblebee wasn’t made into a toy until 2004, after she was featured on the ‘Teen Titans’ cartoon and included in the accompanying toy line.  This was during a period of time when Transformers weren’t particularly popular.  By the time the live action ‘Transformers’ movies renewed interest in the robots, the Teen Titans toys and cartoon had been cancelled, so there was no overlap.

But now there is.  With a solo ‘Bumblebee’ movie coming out on December 21, 2018, Hasbro is planning to create an accompanying line of toys and to license the brand to other products.  But beginning in 2015, Mattel and DC launched the DC Super Hero Girls toy line and included their Bumblebee as one of the core characters.  Not only has Mattel issued a Bumblebee 12″ fashion doll and a 6″ action figure, but there have been Bumblebee dress-up costumes, a LEGO set, and the character has appeared on all manner of licensed goods like books, bedding/decor, clothing, posters, hygienic items and more.  There is also an accompanying animated series accessible on Youtube and on DVD.  An ongoing series premieres on the Cartoon Network next year.

According to Hasbro’s lawsuit:

“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.  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.”

It’s unlikely even the most clueless adults will get a transforming vehicle/robot mixed up with a fashion doll.  It seems that the main source of contention is the building block toys.  If that’s the case, it shouldn’t be too hard for Mattel to simply not use Bumblebee in that set, since she has already appeared in it.  But if Hasbro wants them to stop using the character entirely, that could be problematic since she is the only African American character in the line.

Can Hasbro really claim the fairly generic name “Bumblebee?”  We’ll let you know how this turns out.

Source: Variety