President Trump will be remembered for many things, but his use of Twitter has been an effective and groundbreaking approach to connecting with constituents and the wider world. He recently took to Twitter to announce the imminent arrival of sanctions against Iran. He did this with his own parody of Game of Thrones: using the line “Sanctions are Coming” in a font similar to the one used by the acclaimed show. There was also a picture of him with an almost Dothraki-like scowl.
HBO, which owns several federal registrations for the phrase “WINTER IS COMING,” quickly claimed infringement with the response of: “How do you say trademark misuse in Dothraki?” However, while the cable channel’s response is witty, experts are quick to point out that trademark misuse is rarely applied as a matter of trademark infringement. In fact, it is often used by the trademark holder to protect itself against use in violation of the law.
Further, parody use of a trademark is defensible if the parody is a viable expression of one’s first amendment rights.
Nonetheless, use of trademark parody should be done with caution, because it can still invoke litigation. Courts are unlikely to rule in favor of a parody if specific images or other materials from the trademark owner are also used. Unfavorable rulings are also more likely if the parody mark relates to the same category of goods and services as the registered mark, though there is even some leeway as we wrote about recently in an article about breweries having some fun.
It is also worth noting that a good parody needs to be funny or irreverent and also satirically capture the inspiration’s essence in some way. “Winter is Coming” implies an ominous note, which the president invoked with his scowling picture. If the humor is not right, the parody will not really work.