Ray Felix the little guy who dared to use the word Superhero
30 Jan, 2013
We often read or hear rumors about how a big conglomerate is suing a little guy, but rarely do we hear directly from the little guy. If we do, it’s a brief paragraph tucked away in the middle of an ocean of self aggrandizing, big business advertising that passes for news. Most would think that anyone standing up to a large corporation for what they believe is crazy. Well, Ray Felix, founder of the Bronx Heroes Con, entrepreneur, and comic artist is just such a person. He is currently locked into a trademark battle with Marvel and DC over the word “superhero”. For those of you not aware, the Big Two co-own the word superhero (super-hero, super hero, and all variations). It seems as silly as Microsoft and Apple co-owning the word “PC”. Now to set aside my opinion about the matter and the absurdity, the actual law regarding trademark is that if you do have a mark, and someone uses it it is your duty as the trademark owner to pursue the infringement on your mark. Failure to so means loss of your mark. So this is what Marvel/DC are alleging Ray Felix did. In September of 2010 Ray received his first Cease and desist letter, and after that he still managed to get his mark, Cup O Java studio Comix A World Without Superheros, registered with trademark office. April of 2012 Ray entered the ring with Titans of comics to dispute over the name Superhero. For more on this real life David and Goliath struggle, let’s talk to the little guy himself.
Ray, it’s a pleasure to have you here with us. I’d like to start by asking whether you knew the word “superhero” was trademarked before you got your first cease and desist letter? I was astounded to learn about this. It seems to be a generic word to describe a type of character or genre. Were you shocked?
I had heard in 2006 that Marvel and DC had jointly renewed their trademark on the word Super Hero. Even still, jointly trademarking a word does not entitle any company or individual rights over the word as DC/ Marvel had proclaimed. In their eyes they own every and any variation of the word regardless of spelling, variation in a statement or sentence in the English language or foreign. Registration marks do not work that way. It’s illegal and impractical. Also, Registration gives you legal rights to word usage for a literal element. Meaning a specific product which uses the actual word to sell a product(s). Trademarks/ registered marks are never secure and can always be brought into opposition by any party which feels that it is infringing on their registration rights.
That’s right, a trademark is to help distinguish between products so as to not confuse the consumer. How did you react? And when did you get the cease and desist letter?
At first I laughed for a few months, then I realized they were not going to simply go away. I was cautioned, if not threatened in a polite manner to drop my registration mark application for about six months. I did not drop the application and my mark : “Cup O Java studio Comix A World Without Superheroes”, was published as a registered mark.
How has it been dealing with Marvel/DC lawyers?
At first they seemed to be friendly, but once I brought into question their limitations of the word Super Hero and presented my right to use my published mark, their lawyer began to grunt and lose patience in our conversations and then began making sharp remarks.
Did you trademark it before you got the letter?
It was published for about three months before the letter from Kenyon and Kenyon.
So what’s it like representing yourself and what’s the court process like? I imagine that in representing yourself, you’ve had to do a great deal of research. What did you discover?
Nothing so dramatic. Everything was impersonal and took place through uploads and emails.
Certainly not the stuff of TV court dramas. What sort of updates are there in your case that you would you like tell us about?
Due to an upload error I was charged with Abandonment and then fought to get it reinstated. I still have a challenge ahead of me because the judge found my answers to the office action as Argumentative.
Now, you realize that most people reading this probably think you’re a sucker for punishment. What do you have to say to them?
I went public about the case at the last Mocca Con and was surprised that I was treated like a leper. It was the first time I felt like an excommunicated Christian at a comic con. Few voices were supportive. I got a few snickers and a few childish responses from so-called male adults. It surprised me that people who spend their money at comic cons and read about heroes are so afraid and un-heroic in their own code to stand for something. They’re conditioned puppets of corporate structures.
What I found more ironic is that Mocca is an Indie comic con, not a mainstream con. I thought this is where the artists and writers are the power base of independent media in comics would exist. The pulse of change and against the establishment. This wasn’t the case.
I think the founders, board members and advisers of Mocca who I know personally are committed to alternate comics and readership. I believe they are committed to being a part of the revolutionary spirit of the sixties, seventies and eighties.
Unfortunately, the torch has not been passed to younger generations and their minds are more in tuned to making money and becoming another corporate structure that has little to do with creativity, literacy in comics or education.
The younger generations in the comics business are just hipsters who look like independent artists but have a corporate mindset of making themselves the next mainstream. Kind of like when MTV created the term “Alternative music” which was the death of the New Wave art form.
All right Ray, thanks and all the best. We’ll keep an eye on your case as it could set a new legal precedent that could affect all comic creators. If there are any updates, please keep us informed. We’d love to hear about them. For more reading about what has to say here are some links to his blog and official website.