Disney Pixar Films not thrilled with Pixar oil pipelines

It’s not exactly the stuff of a blockbuster Christmas film, that’s for sure. Walt Disney Co. – the parent organization of Pixar Animation Studios – seems to be taking umbrage over their name showing up in an entirely unexpected place… petroleum production. And all of this is going on in the Great White North.

For many of the littlest moviegoers, Walt Disney Co.’s Pixar Animation Studios has served as a pipeline for a string of critical and commercial hits, including the “Toy Story” and “Cars” movies.

Now, in a surprise to Disney, the Pixar name is being linked to pipelines of a different sort: Ones tapping petroleum deposits in Western Canada.

A Calgary, Alberta, oil and gas company said on Monday that it would organize its oil sands and carbonate bitumen interests into a subsidiary called Pixar Petroleum Corp…

Disney doesn’t believe the petroleum company has legal rights to the Pixar name, “and we intend to take the appropriate legal action,” a Disney spokeswoman said this week.

This came as a total surprise to me, but apparently this isn’t the first time that the Canadian energy producers have nabbed names reminiscent of Hollywood for their corporations. And the similarities don’t really require any stretch of the imagination to make the connection. Here are a few others which the Wall Street Journal lists:

  • Pixar Petroleum’s parent company is Paramount Resources Ltd.
  • Fox Drilling Inc.
  • Summit Resources Inc. (Think Summit Entertainment LLC, of “Twilight” movies fame.)
  • MGM Energy Corp.

So how do they get away with it? The WSJ offers an explanation.

Intellectual-property lawyers said it isn’t clear that the oil company’s use of the Pixar name could be considered trademark infringement because it is in such a different business, selling such different products.

Disney owns Pixar trademarks, according to filings with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, for “entertainment services in the field of film and television, namely, the creation, production and distribution of films, videos, animation and computer-generated images.”…

“In an infringement claim, the issue is whether…the relevant consuming public is likely to be confused,” said Gloria Phares, an attorney with Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP who specializes in intellectual property. “But just because you have a mark in one area, like in animation, doesn’t mean you have a monopoly on a mark.”

She added that a trademark claim can extend to an area that is a reasonable extension of the territory governed by the mark, but that “it wouldn’t occur to me that a natural area of expansion from animated films was petroleum products.”

It makes sense once you think about it. I know there are two small businesses in my area with the name, “Fox” and they have nothing to do with television or media. MGM is really just a three letter acronym and could be used by any number of businesses. While Pixar sounds rather unique, it’s still just a word. (Albeit one made up by Steve Jobs.) I wonder if Disney really has enough muscle to shut them down?