Merchandising is a cash cow for films — and that’s where Netflix is heading with ‘Squid Game’

Squid Game has taken the world by storm. It is now Netflix’s most successful television series ever. 

But this article is not about the success of the TV series. It’s about the steps Netflix has taken to protect the Squid Game trademark globally. I recently searched the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s global trademark database and noticed that, in the past couple of weeks, Netflix has filed applications to register the Squid Game trademark in several countries. 

And the trademark applications have been filed in relation to a wide range of merchandise, including pen and pencil cases, luggage, handbags, mugs, bottle openers, swimwear and even balloons. 

A trademark is a form of intellectual property (IP) right that one trader uses to distinguish their goods or services from those of another trader. Registered trademarks grant their owners exclusive rights to use the trademarks in relation to the goods or services in respect of which they are registered. 

With the exclusive right to use the trademark in relation to merchandise, Netflix will be able to sell themed merchandise around the world, alternatively, license the right to third parties, who will sell the themed merchandise.

Merchandising has been known to be a cash cow for films since the merchandising success of Star Wars in the 1970s. Star Wars is known to have made billions in revenue from toys and licensing income from third parties. In 2015 alone, the same year Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, Star Wars toys generated sales of more than $700-million, just in the US. And other films, including several Disney franchises such as Toy Story and Frozen, have found merchandising success. Toy Story generated more than $1-billion in global box office sales but 10 times that in retail sales.

Another great example is Harry Potter, which, after grossing over $7-billion in global box office sales, thanks to, among others, toys and scarves, has a merchandise franchise estimated to be worth more than $20-billion. And do not even get me started on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What is evident is that one’s ability to monetise the monopoly granted by an IP right has the potential to yield significant returns.

Netflix recognises that trademarks, and other IP rights, are business assets and should therefore be protected. But Netflix is not the only company that recognises this. According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, in 2019 alone, more than 11.5 million trademark applications were filed around the world. Even so, it is only when the monopoly granted by trademarks is monetised, that these business assets become economic assets, and their real and tangible value is realised. But not all trademark owners succeed in realising this value.

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Rachel Sikwane
Rachel Sikwane is a director of RNMS Inc and a commercial lawyer specialising in intellectual property (IP)

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