It’s time to light the lights, again. For those who do not know me well, it might come as a surprise to you that this very serious intellectual property law nerd loves a frog. Few things bring me more joy than Kermit the Frog.
As young girl growing up in my version of a swamp, lower Alabama, I always related to Kermit the most. He was the team motivator. He was the one who the other Muppets turned to for answers. Like me, he has really big dreams. Kermit showed me early on any dream is possible if you work hard and bring unique people (and maybe a few weirdos, thanks Gonzo) together to help make dreams reality.
While he is not the group’s entertainment attorney or intellectual property attorney, in a lot of ways, Kermit is my example of what it means to be the wizard behind the curtain making the deals and putting on the show. He creates the chaos, but is always completely in control of the chaos surrounding him. So, you can imagine my excitement when Disney announced it was bringing back The Muppet Show to primetime television by way of their network ABC.
Originally created by Jim Henson, who grew up in Mississippi, Kermit and his cast of characters changed ownership hands to the Disney Company over a decade ago. A fascinating article, found HERE explains how the characters belong to Disney, but some entities still have the limited right to use the “Muppet” name to describe certain iterations of products. The details in the article about the name change over, rights, who can do what with which products demonstrates the importance of intellectual property.
Copyright protection exists in each of the individual characters. The “Muppet look” with large eyes, smaller bodies and exaggerated mouths made by the Jim Henson Company have certain characteristics that I believe could be trade dress. The name “Muppets” is a federally registered trademark that immediately tells consumers what type of quality you can expect to receive and the source. Then, there are the products – films, television shows, merchandising and educational tools. All of the products created in the past and all possible products that can be created in the future. The ways in which you can divide, subdivide, repackage and repurpose are as limitless as a flowing water swamp in Mississippi.
For original creators of work it is important to protect the creative product you create and to do so from the beginning. Would Disney have found much value if the Jim Henson Company had been less than lackluster when it came to protecting and enforcing its intellectual property rights? Would Disney have been interested in a company who had been lazy when it came to putting in place smart business practices to protect the characters and the content created? Maybe, but what I think gave the possibility of a deal much appeal to an outside entity was because the intellectual property and brand had been properly cared for since the beginning.
For new creators of work and new companies with big dreams, a good mindset from day one would be to setup your company anticipating that your products are going to be so good that a Disney, an NBC or a Coca-Cola might be interested in what you are doing in the future. If you ever watch the show Shark Tank, also on ABC, you will notice the Sharks oftentimes inquire about patents, trademarks and copyrights. The Sharks know, just like Jim Henson did, a great idea without protection is free for others to use and exploit, which diminishes the monetary capabilities.
The value is in the protection and taking steps to setup good business practices related to intellectual property from the beginning. This also means seeking and finding an experienced intellectual property attorney to add to your own cast of characters. Doing so will make sure that you will find your own rainbow connection.
Be sure to tune in this Tuesday to watch the new Muppet Show. You can guarantee yours truly will be watching, tweeting and waiting to see what’s next for my favorite frog. While we wait a few more days for the new show, below is the recording when Kermit the Frog came to conduct his first ever TED Talk at Jackson, Mississippi’s inaugural TEDX event last year. I can say I was there and it was BY FAR the best part of the day! In the meantime, don’t forget “Life’s like a movie. Write your own ending. Keep believing. Keep pretending” and Stay Tuned In!
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