You may be surprised to know that SANTA CLAUS is a trademark, but it is. Father Christmas Ltd., a British company and the proud owner of www.santa-claus.com, also owns the rights to sell Santa Claus merchandise in the United States. Of course, it’s not an exclusive license, since Santa has been around since the days of jolly St. Nick, but one hardly expects a trademark to issue on a man who is such a public — nay, mythological — figure.
Santa Claus as we know him today is the end-product of neo-Darwinian evolution, a marriage of such disparate elements as Odin leading the fey on a wild hunt through the night sky at Yuletide, the unpredictable Dutch tyrant Sinterklaas enslaving boys or gifting them with ginger, and apocryphal tales of generosity by the Christian bishop Saint Nicholas. All of which is now seen through the distorted lens of time and Coca Cola’s advertising from the 1930s, when the company decided to turn Santa into a larger-than-life, red-and-white garbed sumo chortling his way down Main Street to FAO Schwartz.
Although Santa is in the public domain and thus hypothetically owned by all of us, the marketplace has little care for the commons, and the Patent and Trademark Office has issued a slew of Santa trademarks, some of which are shocking in their whismy, from Santa Claus Anonymous® (for Santas who drink too much), to Santa Claus Land® (Disney with real elves), to Santa Claus Productions®, which hosts the annual Santa Claus Special®, owns the Santa Claus Network®, and sponsors the Santa Claus World Tour® (consisting entirely of Christmas tunes)
Even our own supposedly disinterested government has gotten into the Santa game, as this week the Defense Department’s Branding and Trademark Licensing Office (“Yes, Virginia, there is a Pentagon trademark office”) registered a trademark for “NORAD Tracks Santa,” which capitalizes on the Santa tracker we all know and love by selling Santa tchotchkes at www.itrackedsanta.com. Apparently, the top seller so far is a customized letter from Santa, closely followed by a rockin’ red T-shirt that says “I tracked Santa 2012.”
Personally, my favorite Santa trademark is Winston, Son of Santa Claus®, which is owned by a man named Winston who resides in Upernavik, Greenland. This Christmas day, as the fire leaps and crackles in the hearth, I imagine Winston in his Santa’s Elf® lederhosen relaxing with a pint of St. Nick’s® beer, throwing a Santa Claws® chew toy to his wolfhound, dreaming of reindeer and the endless forest at the end of time.
On Dancer, on Prancer, on Donner and Blitzen. On Comet . . . .
I am a commercial litigator and intellectual property lawyer in Orange County. Although my practice encompasses a wide variety of business disputes, I have a particular fondness for, and am prone to wax philosophical on, the subjects of copyright and trademark infringement in music, literature, art, and film.