That One Time When Lucasfilm Sued President Reagan’s Star Wars Program

During the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan’s administration worked with High Frontier to develop the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a space-based laser that would shoot down incoming ballistic missiles launched from the Soviet Union. In the media, the plan was referred to as “Star Wars”. Lucasfilm responded to the name by suing High Frontier for trademark infringement.

Lucasfilm hoped the lawsuit would deter High Frontier and others from associating space-based laser weapons with the Star Wars franchise. As many fans of the series remember, the Death Star was an infamous space station capable of blasting apart planets with a giant laser beam. SDI was a proposed plan to prevent the United States from descending into a Mad Max-style nuclear wasteland, which is far different from a laser-shooting space station commonly mistaken for a moon.

What We Can Learn From the Star Wars Program Lawsuit

Lucasfilm Ltd. v. High Frontier was the first in a series of intellectual property lawsuits launched by Lucasfilm, and one that it lost. High Frontier had used Star Wars, a trademarked term, for television ads supporting SDI. The judge presiding over the case ruled that because High Frontier had not used the term “Star Wars” to sell commercial products or promote services, it was not guilty of trademark infringement.

Trademark infringement occurs when businesses, organizations or people cash in on the successful ideas of other companies, using it for commercial gain. High Frontier and politicians had compared SDI to Star Wars as a descriptive parody, and did not use it for commercial purposes.

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