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G1 Transformers trademarks and their current status with Hasbro

Written by Nevermore
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Introduction: Name reuses within the various Transformers toylines

Index by years

Alphabetical index

Part 1: Overview - copyrights, patents and trademarks

Part 2: Names Hasbro never lost (1)

Part 3: Names Hasbro never lost (2)

Part 4: Names Hasbro managed to get back (1)

Part 5: Names Hasbro managed to get back (2)

Part 6: Names Hasbro had to modify

Part 7: Names Hasbro had to find a substitute for

Part 8: Names of characters which were originally not released as toys

Introduction: Name reuses within the various Transformers toylines

Over the years, Hasbro have reused a lot of names originally used for older Transformers toys. However, this hasn't always been the case.

During the run of the original "Generation 1" toyline, Hasbro initially put the emphasis on introducing new characters every year. Sunbow's cartoon series and the comic books by Marvel followed that line of thought, with the animated Transformers: The Movie from 1986 killing off he vast majority of the original 1984 characters while introducing new ones, whereas Marvel Comics writer Bob Budiansky was repeatedly urged by Hasbro to phase out older characters in favor of putting the focus on newer ones. Another thing to consider is that name protection (more on trademarks and how they work in part 1) outside the main brand name ("Transformers" in Hasbro's case) wasn't nearly as vicious in the Eighties as it is today. For example, Hasbro's biggest competitor during the early days of the Transformers line, Tonka, was able to release a Gobots toy named "Rumble" in 1985, despite Hasbro having already released a Transformers toy using that name a year earlier; and likewise, Hasbro released a Transformers toy named "Blaster" in 1985, despite Tonka already having released a Gobots toy using that name in 1983. Also, Hasbro were able to release a Constructicon named "Scrapper" in 1985 even though the US division of Tomy had registered the name in the "toys" category that same year. Presumably, neither of those companies had any legal battles over those names.

Even though Hasbro registered a few Transformers-related names ("Optimus Prime", "Soundwave", "Ultra Magnus", "Galvatron", "Rodimus Prime", "Defensor", "Superion", "Menasor", "Silverbolt", "Metroplex", "Omega Supreme", "Sky Lynx", "Predaking" and "Wreck-Gar") very early on, they wouldn't start to systematically trademark all the names of their Transformers toys until 1988. Starting with the Pretenders, the Double Targetmasters, Small Headmasters, Powermasters, Seacons, Triggerbots and Triggercons, every "main" toy would sport a ™ after its name, although the names of the Nebulan companions for the Headmasters, Targetmasters and Powermasters would not be trademarked yet. Starting in 1989, however, Hasbro would trademark the name of every single Micromaster, even the ones only available as part of multi-packs, a trend that would continue until today.

In general, other than many of the original 1984 toys still being available as part of the 1985 assortments (some of them even being still available until 1986), Hasbro originally didn't really bother to recycle names, or to release multiple toys intended to represent the same characters. Neither the character bio for the Galvatron toy (who was revealed to be an upgraded form of Megatron in the animated Transformers: The Movie) nor the one for the Rodimus Prime toy from 1986 (revealed to be an upgraded form of Hot Rod, another 1986 toy, in Transformers: The Movie) made any reference regarding their connection to the respective other toy. Therefore, the Throttlebot Goldbug toy from 1987 would be the first toy to be officially identified as a new version of an older toy, in his case the 1984 Bumblebee toy, on the packaging itself. Following that, the first toy to actually use the name of an older toy was the Powermaster Optimus Prime toy from 1988.

A year later, in 1989, Hasbro released four "Pretender Classic" toys based on the original 1984 Bumblebee, Starscream and Jazz toys and the original 1985 Grimlock toy, which were also available as Kmart exclusive "Legends" versions without their Pretender shells. Again a year later, in 1990, Hasbro finally started to release a larger lineup of toys that were directly based on older toys, thereby also reusing those toys' original names, with the "Action Master" versions of Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Grimlock, Jazz, Blaster, Prowl, Inferno, Wheeljack, Snarl, Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave, Shockwave and Devastator. Following that, the Transformers toyline was cancelled in the USA, but would continue in Europe, with more Action Master toys based on, and even reissues of the original toys, but none of these had any implications on the US trademarks.

The Transformers brand was eventually revitalized in the USA in 1993 in the form of the "Generation 2" line, which would continue to reuse older toys' names, both in the form of re-releases of original toys such as Optimus Prime, Sideswipe, Jazz, Inferno, Starscream, Ramjet, Bumblebee, Hubcap, Seaspray, Beachcomber, Grimlock Slag, Snarl, the Constructicons, the Aerialbots and the Combaticons (the Protectobots and the Stunticons were also planned, but ultimately never came out) and with entirely new toys, some of which were actually designed to resemble older toys, whereas others (such as the Go-Bots) merely sported the names of, and occasionally decos based on the original toys.

After the cancellation of the Generation 2 line, Kenner's Beast Wars line only recycled very few names of older toys (Megatron, Grimlock, Prowl, Scorponok, Inferno, Ironhide, Silverbolt, Bonecrusher, Razorclaw, Snarl, Scourge, Soundwave) over the course of its four-year run, with most of those toys sharing little similarity with the original Transformers toys using those names, and also featured a few established names in minor variations ("Optimus Primal", "Buzz Saw", "Lazorbeak", "Ram Horn"). It was also during the Beast Wars line that the first naming conflict occurred, when Hasbro weren't able to release an imported version of Takara's Shadow Panther toy under the name "Ravage", but had to use the Japanese toy's name "Shadow Panther" as a substitute (and later even another substitute name, "Tripredacus Agent", because the name "Shadow Panther" also clashed with another company's trademark) instead. In the meantime, the short-lived KB Toys exclusive "Machine Wars" side-line was made up almost completely of toys using existing names (Optimus Prime, Prowl, Mirage, Hoist, Hubcap, Megatron, Starscream, Skywarp, Thundercracker, Soundwave, Sandstorm), although the similarities with the original toys were still marginal at best in most cases. The Beast Machines line continued to reuse existing names (Buzzsaw, Mirage, Scavenger, Thrust, Snarl, Skydive, Silverbolt and Megatron), with the toys still sharing little similarity with the original toys using those names in most cases.

Hasbro finally started to use the names of original Transformers toys more regularly again with the Robots in Disguise line from 2001, with a Deluxe toy named "Prowl", Spychangers named "Ironhide", "Mirage" and "Side Swipe", the first "main" line "Optimus Prime" toy since the end of the Generation 2 line and even the first new "Ultra Magnus" and "Galvatron" toys since 1986. In addition, Hasbro would also continue to use established names for toys that shared little similarity with previous toys using those names, such as "Grimlock", "Bruticus", "Scavenger", "Scourge" and "Rollbar".

With the Armada line from 2002, Hasbro would continue to reintroduce more and more names of well-known toys from the early years of the Transformers line into their "main" lines, such as "Starscream", "Thundercracker", "Wheeljack", "Blurr", "Red Alert" or "Jetfire", while using other established names such as "Inferno", "Ironhide", "Prowl", "Mirage" or "Cliffjumper" for Mini-Cons. In many cases, the toys even actually resembled the original toys using those names to some degree. Following that, the Energon and Cybertron lines would continue the trend of repeatedly reusing the names of "classic" toys, as well as reintroducing names such as "Soundwave" and "Metroplex" into the "main" lines. Meanwhile, in 2002, Hasbro found another way of reusing names of older toys when they imported Takara's "SCF" line of PVC figures and released them in the USA under the name "Heroes of Cybertron". The PVCs were not only based on older toys, but were actually supposed to represent those same characters. In addition, Hasbro also started to release "Commemorative Series" reissues of the original toys themselves shortly afterwards, which gave them yet another opportunity to reuse established names. However, between the Heroes of Cybertron PVCs and the reissues, more naming conflicts would arise, as Hasbro had to use prefixes for names such as "Autobot Jazz", "Autobot Ratchet", "Autobot Tracks" or "Constructicon Devastator", and had to rename other toys altogether (such as "Hot Rod" into "Rodimus Major", or "Bluestreak" into "Silverstreak").

Other outlets Hasbro used to reuse names of older toys were the Universe line that consisted entirely of redecos of toys from previous lines, with some of the toys actually resembling the original toys they were named after, and the Alternators line that was originally intended to consist of "upgrades" of older toys that would transform into officially licensed cars, although later toys wouldn't always resemble the original toys they were named after (Windcharger, Rollbar) or would even use entirely new names altogether ("Decepticharge"). Between the Universe and the Alternators lines, more naming conflicts occurred, with more toys requiring prefixes such as "Autobot Hound", "Autobot Whirl", "Battle Ravage" or "Decepticon Rumble", and others requiring substutite names ("Windcharger" instead of "Overdrive", "Shockblast" instead of "Shockwave", "Quickmix" instead of "Mixmaster").

Other (more or less) collector-oriented lines that featured new interpretations of "classic" toys were the Titanium Series, the "Classics" line (which was not actually called "Classics" as a line) and the Robot Heroes sub-line, all of which provided Hasbro with a multitude of opportunities to reuse names of older toys. Nevertheless, in some cases prefixes ("Decepticon Scrapper") or substitute names ("Rodimus" instead of "Hot Rod", "Insecticon" instead of "Shrapnel") were still required.

After the first BotCon exclusive toy from 1994, Breakdown, had been an unreleased Generation 2 toy that had made it to the sample packaging stage, but never went into mass production, Hasbro didn't allow the BotCon organizers to release the convention exclusive toys under names that had been previously used for existing toys. That rule would later be slightly loosened in 1999, when 3H Enterprises were allowed to release a BotCon exclusive redeco of the Beast Wars Mega Beast Scorponok toy named "Sandstorm"; however, in that case, the toy was still supposed to represent an entirely different character than the original Triple Changer toy of that name from 1986. The rule was eventually dropped altogether in 2001, when 3H Enterprises were able to release a BotCon exclusive redeco of the Beast Wars Mega Transmetal 2 Blackarachnia named "Arcee", an established character who had never been released as a toy before, as well as a redeco of Takara's Beast Wars Metals Jaguar toy, which had previously only been available in Japan, under the name "Tigatron", an established character from the Beast Wars line who had been released as a toy before. Following thast, 3H Enterprises released an "Expanded Universe" redeco of the Beast Machines Ultra Jetstorm toy named "Cyclonus", which was exclusively available at BotCon 2002. The next year, 3H would release two redecos of the Robots in Disguise Deluxe Prowl toy named "Sunstreaker" and "Sideswipe" that were available at what was now named the Official Transformers Collectors' Convention 2003. After the license for the official Transformers convention had been transferred from 3H to Fun Publications, BotCon exclusives would continue to use names of existing toys, such as "Ricochet", "Ironhide", "Autobot Ratchet", "Dirge", "Laserbeak", "Buzzsaw", "Dreadwind", "Thundercracker", "Thrust", "Mirage", "Weirdwolf", "Springer" or "Huffer". In addition, Fun Publications' Official Transformers Collectors' Club also released exclusive toys that used names of existing toys such as "Skyfall" or "Astrotrain". Since all those toys were officially produced by Hasbro for the respective convention organizers, who would release them under license, the names all counted as trademark uses for Hasbro.

While Hasbro had no objections against using substitute names for toys based on older toys that would be released as part of a "main" line (i.e. toylines with an accompanying cartoon), they refrained from using names with prefixes such as "Autobot Jazz" or "Constructicon Devastator" in their main lines and kept them exclusive to the more collector-oriented lines, with the only exceptions being "Battle Ravage" and "Command Ravage" from the Energon line (the three Powerlinx combiners named "Constructicon Maximus", "Superion Maximus" and "Bruticus Maximus" posed a bizarre twist in that regard, as they would use the "Maximus" part as a suffix, thereby making "Constructicon" essentially the toy's "real" name rather than a prefix). This attitude only changed with the accompanying toyline for the live action Transformers Movie, as Dreamworks intended to use several characters in their movie whose names would require a prefix for the toyline. As a result, Hasbro not only went through a lot of legal hassle to reclaim the name "Bumblebee", but also actually used the names "Autobot Jazz", "Autobot Ratchet", "Decepticon Frenzy" and "Decepticon Brawl" (even though the latter character ended up being called "Devastator" in the movie itself for whatever reason) for the first time in a main line.

Generally, Hasbro's legal department prefers to use substitute names when a name appears to be unavailable, rather than going through the legal (and financial) hassle that is required to even attempt to reclaim a name that is held by another company one way or another. The only exception appears to date appears to be "Bumblebee", where Hasbro had a multi-million dollar Hollywood movie in the back that apparently justified the expenses required. In other instances, Hasbro had to wait before the company that held the rights to a name abandoned it, like in the cases of "Shockwave", "Sideswipe", "Swoop" or "Ravage".


CREDITS: Several sources proved to be an invaluable help in my research. In particular, Monzo's list of Transformers-related trademarks currently registered or pursued by Hasbro and the corresponding lists of trademarks related to Transformers toys' names sorted by year, as well as the trademark database maintained by the Mapes Brothers at Transformers @ The Moon, spared me the hassle to look up everything on the United States Patent & Trademark Office's website myself; Anthony Brucale's website TFU.info and Shawn Keaton's "Transformers Archive" at Cobra Island Toys helped me to track down name reuses for toys released prior to Beast Machines in particular; various members of the TFW2005 and Allspark boards (Engledogg in particular) and the #wiigii channel (particularly Monzo, who has been doing his own research regarding Transformers trademarks for several years, and Lodril, who is actually an IP lawyer by profession) were able to clear up a lot of open questions; my own preceeding research (based to a large extent on the toy checklists I've been maintaining for several years by now) helped to quickly pin down name reuses on more recent toys; YOJOE.com helped tracking down name reuses within the G.I. Joe line; and together with Cobra Island Toys, the toy galleries at Seibertron and the Hasbro stock photo archive at TFW2005 were a tremendous help in verifying whether a toy sported an ® or a mere ™ claim after a name on the packaging.

Now, on to the trademarks.

Index by years
Alphabetical index
Part 1: Overview - copyrights, patents and trademarks
Part 2: Names Hasbro never lost (1)
Part 3: Names Hasbro never lost (2)
Part 4: Names Hasbro managed to get back (1)
Part 5: Names Hasbro managed to get back (2)
Part 6: Names Hasbro had to modify
Part 7: Names Hasbro had to find a substitute for
Part 8: Names of characters which were originally not released as toys


 
 
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