Disney drops bid to trademark name of traditional Mexican 'Dia de los Muertos' holiday

SANTA ANA, Calif. – Disney has dropped an effort to trademark “Dia de los Muertos,” the name of the traditional “Day of the Dead” holiday celebrated by millions in Mexico and the U.S.

The company announced Tuesday that it was withdrawing a trademark request it made on May 1 to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The application prompted online criticism and petitions.

“What were they thinking?” Genevieve Barrios Southgate, director of community programs at Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, told the Orange County Register ( ).

“Disney obviously responded to public pressure,” she said. “I guess that’s what happens when you don’t have culturally sensitive people as your advisers.”

Many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans observe the November holiday, which honours deceased relatives and loved ones. Traditions include cleaning and decorating graves, leaving gift offerings for the dead and building elaborate shrines decorated with sugar skulls and marigolds.

Disney Enterprises Inc. hoped to secure name rights for merchandise such as snack foods and Christmas ornaments as it partners with Pixar Animation Studios Inc. to create an animated movie inspired by the holiday.

“Disney’s trademark filing was intended to protect any potential title for our film and related activities,” a company statement said. “It has since been determined that the title of the film will change and therefore we are withdrawing our trademark filing.”

Disney was trying to infringe “on something that is so uniquely Mexican and Mexican-American,” Alejandro Gradilla, chairman of the Chicana and Chicano Studies Department at California State University, Fullerton, told the Register. “I don’t think this will be the last time we hear about a company trying to copyright a holiday.”

Had Disney won the trademark, it might have given the company exclusive rights to use the name on merchandise, but it wouldn’t necessarily have prevented holiday events, an attorney told the Arizona Republic ( )

“It doesn’t mean they can stop anyone else from putting on a Dia de los Muertos celebration or anything on those lines,” Michael Campillo said. “They could stop someone from putting out a movie with the same name, or other merchandise.”

However, Disney erred in trying to trademark a commonly used phrase, he said.

“It seems odd that they would go out of their way to upset the consuming public,” Campillo said, “a large part of which they’re trying to court for business.”

Two years ago, Disney was fiercely criticized for attempting to trademark the name “SEAL Team 6” days after that elite U.S. Navy team killed Osama bin Laden. The company later withdrew the application.


Information from: The Orange County Register,