Aquaman and Plastic Man v. Manta and Superstretch
DC Comics, Inc. v. Filmation Assoc., 486 F. Supp 1273 (S.D.N.Y. 1980)


1980: Manta and Superstretch: Trademark Protection for Superhero Ingredients

Trademark law was implicated in the superhero infringement case of DC Comics, Inc. v. Filmation Assoc.  Filmation produced an animated series for DC Comics featuring its character Aquaman and had an option to produce a series for Plastic Man. When the deal fell through, Filmation redesigned parts of its work to create adventures featuring Manta and Superstretch, characters similar to DC Comics' properties, but entirely different in costume.   The characters appeared as part of a Saturday Morning Cartoon Show called Tarzan and the Super 7.  In addition to having very different costumes, Plastic Man is Caucasian and Superstretch is African-American.

Filmation's Aquaman,
licensed from DC Comics



Filmation's Manta,
found to infringe Aquaman


DC Comics sued for trademark infringement, as well as other theories of liability. The jury found that there was infringement, and the Southern District of New York declined to vacate their judgment.  In its analysis, it noted:

Protectable "ingredients" recognized in this circuit include the names and nicknames of entertainment characters, as well as their physical appearances and costumes, but not their physical abilities or personality traits.  The failure of any court so far to grant Lanham Act protection for character traits or abilities makes sense since it is difficult to see how such intangible qualities, having an infinite number of possible visible and audible manifestations, can achieve that fixture or consistency of representation that would seem necessary to constitute a symbol in the public mind.

The court accepted the jury's conclusion that Manta infringed Aquaman and Superstretch infringed Plastic Man.  That conclusion seems drawn less by comparing the heroes in the abstract than the product of a contract termination gone bad.

Aquaman and Aqualad


Manta and Moray


Plastic Man and his crew

Superstretch and Micro Woman


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Aquaman, Aqualad, Plastic Man TM and (c) DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
Manta, Moray, Superstretch, Micro Woman TM and (c) Filmation

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