Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal


Robert J. Kang


U.S. trademark law protects trademarks that have achieved a sufficient degree of fame. This principle extends to trademarks based on foreign popular culture icons, such as Japan's "Hello Kitty." But while that principle seems obvious, caselaw on this subject has been minimal. Without clear judicial guidance confirming that such trademarks are protectable, American infringers may have felt emboldened to misappropriate them. However, in 2007 and 2008, a United States District Court presided over a trademark litigation involving "Dae Jang Geum," the name of the most popular Korean television drama in history. By analyzing the three most important orders issued in that litigation, this article shows the following: (1) that U.S. trademarks based on imported popular culture icons are strong and protectable; (2) that damage awards in such cases may be significant; and (3) that infringers face significant risk by misappropriating intellectual property based on such icons.