Paramount’s battle for ownership of the Romulans

Pictured: Orla Brady as Laris of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: PICARD. Photo Cr: Trae Patton/Paramount+ ©2022 ViacomCBS. All Rights Reserved.
Pictured: Orla Brady as Laris of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: PICARD. Photo Cr: Trae Patton/Paramount+ ©2022 ViacomCBS. All Rights Reserved. /

Star Trek introduced the Romulans in Star Trek: The Original Series.

Every Star Trek fan knows when the Romulans were first introduced on Star Trek: The Original Series. The 1966 episode, “Balance of Terror” has long been lauded as one of the best episodes of the series. The aliens resembled the Vulcans, and their appearance caused quite a stir on the Enterprise, especially with Lt. Stiles who took personal issue with them because of a previous war that killed some of his family.

Much later, in 1983, a punk rock band caused a different kind of battle that involved the Romulans. James White fronted the band in1982 and named it The Romulans. According to, the name was a combination of Romulus and Romans and had to do with the politics of Ancient Rome as they compared to America in the 1980s while Ronald Reagan was president. In 1983, White decided to register the band’s name and logo, and that’s when Paramount got involved.

Paramount took issue with the claimed ownership of The Romulans.

Paramount objected to White’s use of the name, claiming it had long been a part of the Star Trek franchise. On top of that, it had produced licensed material, merchandise, and other stuff with the name Romulan on them. Thus began a four-year legal battle.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board didn’t see it Paramount’s way and ruled against the studio. The Board felt that Paramount had failed to copyright the name even though merchandise was produced.

"Based on this record, we find that, although opposer developed a story-line concerning a fictional race called Romulans and has used these characters in connection with its well known STAR TREK episodes, the only usage thereof which approaches the requirement that a mark identify and distinguish the goods or services of one party from similar goods or services of another is that in connection with space ship models. But, lacking any information with regard thereto, the impact of that use of Romulan on the relevant public, if there has been any, cannot be determined.Considering the question of likelihood of confusion in light of the foregoing, we note that although applicant and opposer are both involved in entertainment services, opposer has failed to establish any use of the term Romulan (or Romulans) as a mark to distinguish its services from similar services of others. As to the effect opposer’s use of Romulan in relation to model space ships is likely to have on this question, even if we assume that there has been moderate sales and advertising activity, we do not believe that applicant’s use of THE ROMULANS to identify its entertainment services would be perceived as related thereto."

(You can read the Board’s entire written opinion here.) So White and his band were free to claim the name and continue making music. Score one for the little guys and the aliens!

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