(Updated to include Hasbro response)
In a court ruling that reads at times like a pop culture or consumer gadget review, a federal judge gave tablet maker Asus a green light to sell its “Transformer” tablets.
Hasbro filed a lawsuit against Asus late last year that claimed the Transformer Prime would lead to confusion with its popular toy robots. As the judge explained:
“The Autobots are led by the virtuous Optimus Prime character, while the Decepticons follow the powerful Megatron. According to Hasbro, Optimus Prime is intended to epitomize honor, duty, leadership, and freedom.”
Hasbro tried to persuade the court that consumers would believe the Asus tablets were connected to the toy franchise. The company pointed out that its transformer toy decal had been used on products like USB storage drives, computer mouses, skins for laptops, speaker heads and iPod docks. The court also took note that:
“In the third film, an Autobot character known as “Brains” disguised itself as a Lenovo ThinkPad Edge Plus laptop [...] Hasbro developed the “Transformers Prime” animated television series, which began airing in approximately November 2010. The series focuses on the life and story of the Optimus Prime character. “Prime” was added to the “Transformers” mark in the program’s name to emphasize this focus. Thus far, the series has received several Emmy nominations and awards and has been aired in 170 countries.”
But the judge refused to believe that consumers would be confused into believing that Asus’s tablet was a Hasbro product:
“There is nothing gimmicky about the Eee Pad Transformer or the Eee Pad Transformer Prime, nor can it be said that there is any similarity in the use or function between Hasbro and Asus’s
The court also found that Asus’ case was strengthened because it was using the word “transformer” as an accurate description because it can” “‘transform’ into a laptop computer when attached to its accompanying QWERTY keyboard dock.”
Finally, the judge suggested that Hasbro had waited too long to act and was not entitled to a preliminary injunction even though the toy company says it plans to launch a line of “Transformer Prime” merchandise this month.
Update: Hasbro responded with the following statement:
“Hasbro strongly disagrees with the Court’s decision not to preliminarily enjoin Asus’ use of those marks, however we were pleased with the Court’s views on the strength of Hasbro’s TRANSFORMERS and TRANSFORMERS PRIME marks. While the case proceeds toward trial, Hasbro will continue to actively pursue this matter and will take all steps necessary to protect its globally recognized and established marks.”
The order also reveals that the Transformer Prime is, for now, no iPad: “as of February 24, 2012, it had received over 2,000 pre-orders … and that retailer fulfillment orders for the next two months total approximately 80,000 tablet computers.”