Showtime Networks is facing a lawsuit by UFO Magazine Inc for breach of its trademarks and intellectual property rights, including for substantial ‘treble’ damages.

Showtime released the four-part docuseries UFO in 2021, which examines the ‘history of the [UFO] phenomenon through cultural and political touchpoints’. The series is the latest project of US filmmaker JJ Abrams, who is best known for producing the TV series Lost (2004-2010) and science fiction films such as Star Trek (2009), Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017).

UFO Magazine is the owner of US Trademarks for ‘UFO’ in two relevant categories – ‘Entertainment in the nature of a television series or motion picture film series’ and ‘Entertainment services’. Court documents claim that these trademarks are ‘incontestable’ and ‘very valuable intellectual properties’. The magazine says that it has been in discussion for the development of a UFO movie or television series for many years, including seeking collaborators for a movie as recently as September 2020.

The claim alleges that Showtime aired UFO without the licence, permission or authority of UFO Magazine – and that Showtime continued to stream the show after UFO Magazine wrote to it on two occasions about the ‘UFO’ trademark. As a result, the claim alleges that Showtime’s use of the trademark was a ‘continued, knowing and intentional’ infringement.

It is not yet known whether Showtime Networks or JJ Abrams deny the claim. At the time of writing, Showtime had not respond to a request for comment.

Titles for television programmes and series (and other editorial publications) do from time to time attract trade mark complaints i.e. where they contain registered trademarks.  In most cases, complaints are easily rebuffed because the mark is not being used in true trade mark sense – use of the mark within the title is descriptive rather than as an indicator of the origin.  This may well end up being the defence in this case – use of the mark UFO would be understood by consumers as descriptive of the series’ contents, rather than as an indicator of its origin.