Happy birthday barbie

Happy 58th Birthday Barbie!   March 9, 1959 marks the date that Barbie was introduced to the world at the American Toy Fair in New York City.

In the mid-1950s Ruth Handler conceived the idea of an adult-bodied doll.  Handler noticed that her daughter, Barbara, enjoyed personifying paper dolls yet doll figurines were virtually non-existent.  Realizing a gap in the market, Handler suggested the idea of a Barbie doll to her husband, Elliot Handler.  (Who just so happened to be the co-founder of the Mattel toy company.)

Barbie’s potential for popularity initially had many skeptics.  Even Ruth’s own husband and Mattel’s board of directors were unenthused about the doll’s earning potential.  However, it wasn’t long until Barbie proved them all wrong.   

Today Mattel still holds the Barbie monolith.  And not only is Barbie Mattel’s best-selling doll, and one of the most popular toys in American history, but she is the best-selling doll of all time.

Mattel has sold more than 1 billion Barbie dolls in over 150 countries.  (Even with a recent decline in sales over the past few years, Barbie consistently rakes in over $1 billion annually for toymaker Mattel.  Not too shabby for a doll whose earning potential was initially scoffed at.)

Since 1959, Barbie has taken on many different roles.  She’s an aerobics instructor, a teacher, a doctor, a paratrooper, a firefighter, an astronaut, a paleontologist, a chef, a ballerina, a rapper, a business executive, a news anchor, a pilot, a veterinarian, and just about every other career you can think of.  She’s definitely a woman of many hats, with high heels to match.

Barbie is an unforgettable part of American culture. Over the years Barbie’s style, shape, and relationship status have all evolved, but she still remains as the top earning and number one powerhouse doll in the business.

Mattel, Inc. is extremely proactive in filing trademark applications.  In the last decade Mattel has consistently ranked in the top five companies that file the most trademark applications in the United States.    (Trademarkia’s trademark search engine provides over 18,000 record results for Mattel’s trademark applications!)

Mattel’s actions of filing so many trademark applications exemplifies that Mattel recognizes the value and importance in trademark registration.  Mattel understands that its trademarks are some of its most valuable assets.  And with a top-earning brand like Barbie it only makes sense they are going to vigorously protect their Barbie trademarks in order to ensure that no one is infringing on their valuable intellectual property. Because  failing to enforce a trademark can seriously hurt their profitability and brand.

It has been a long time trademark myth that Mattel has trademark protection of “barbie pink.”  (They don’t.  But Mattel definitely tried to! Mattel filed for trademark registration for “BARBIE PINK” for “Class 28: TOYS, GAMES AND PLAYTHINGS, NAMELY, DOLLS, DOLL CLOTHING AND DOLL ACCESSORIES; DOLL FURNITURE; DOLL HOUSES AND ACCESSORIES THEREFOR” in April 2008 but never received trademark registration and eventually abandoned their application.)

The goods and services covered by the many BARBIE trademark registration applications are all across the board.  Some of those goods and services are:

And I would be remiss to discuss BARBIE trademarks without mentioning the most notorious Barbie trademark infringement case,  Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc..  In Dec. 2000, Mattel sued MCA Records, stating MCA musical group “Aqua” had violated its Barbie trademark with their song “Barbie Girl.”  

The song reached the US Billboard Hot 100 and poked fun at Barbie.  Mattel said the song’s lyrics were overwhelmed with sexual innuendo and would harm the value of its Barbie trademark.  (Some of the song’s lyrics included Barbie singing to Ken, “I’m a blond bimbo girl, in a fantasy world. Dress me up, make it tight, I’m your dolly . . . Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky-panky, you can touch, you can play . . .” Ken responds, “Come on, Barbie, let’s go party, ah ah ah yeah, Come on, Barbie, let’s go party, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh.”

Mattel moved for an injunction against MCA charging that the song recording (1) infringed Mattel’s BARBIE trademark and (2) diluted the value of the BARBIE trademark.  However, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Mattel’s motions.  

“With fame often comes unwanted attention,” wrote 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinksi. “The song pokes fun at Barbie and the values that Aqua contends she represents […] some trademarks enter our public discourse and became an integral part of our vocabulary. How else do you say that something’s ‘the Rolls-Royce of its class’? What else is a quick fix, but a Band-Aid? Trademarks often fill in gaps in our vocabulary and add a contemporary flavor to our expressions. Once imbued with such expressive value, the trademark becomes a word in our language and assumes a role outside the bounds of trademark law.”

Ultimately the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held the song was a parody that lampooned the Barbie image and was protected under the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

To take from Aqua’s song “Barbie Girl” is life in plastic really that fantastic? I think the last 58 years have shown this to be true for one particular doll.

Happy Birthday, Barbie!  


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Chelsea Wold is an Associate Attorney. Chelsea works with clients in various industries and of all sizes on domestic and global brand protection issues. Chelsea’s practice focuses on intellectual property portfolio management, including domestic and international trademark clearance, prosecution, and enforcement, copyright and trademark counseling. Chelsea received her J.D. degree from the Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law with a Certificate in Law, Science and Technology with a focus on Intellectual Property and Health Law. While in law school Chelsea received Pedrick Scholar Honors (dean’s list) and the Distinction for Highest Pro Bono service. She also graduated with dual degrees from the University of Arizona where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. Chelsea was on the Fiesta Bowl Queen and Court while in college, serving as a spokeswoman for The Fiesta Bowl Organization. She was also on the dean’s list from 2009-2013. On the personal side, Chelsea has her own blog that she started as a journalism major in college. Creative writing is a hobby and creative outlet for Chelsea.