Phil Reed over at Battlegrip speculates on the specific rights Diamond Select Toys has to Battle Beasts. I actually discussed this on PGPoA way back in 2009, and even then it was rumored DST only had the trademark on the brand name, not the creature designs (or the rub-sign feature).
It seems obvious TakaraTomy (the Japanese rights holder of Transformers) still has the rights to Beastformers, the Japanese toy line that became Battle Beasts when imported to the U.S. and Europe. As the original name suggests, in Japan the line was tied in to Transformers (specifically the Japanese Headmasters franchise). And now it looks like TakaraTomy may be moving forward with some new product under the name Beast Saga.
(A brief aside to Phil’s main question: I suspect the confusion over whether DST “paid someone” for the trademark is due either to someone at the C2E2 DST panel misspeaking, or someone misunderstanding or misreporting what was said. I do think they simply snapped up the trademark when TakaraTomy let it lapse. Also, I believe you pay the government a fee when you pick up a lapsed trademark, so that may be what the “paid” is referring to.)
I did attempt to find out exactly what the situation was with DST and the BB rights, but was unable to get a straight answer. But it’s pretty clear DST probably only has the trademark to the name “Battle Beasts.” I think this was evident from the beginning, but what happened was people were using the terms “trademark” and “brand” interchangeably when discussing it, and as “brand” tends to hold a broader scope in people’s minds, things got confused.
I would assume/hope DST’s lawyers did their research and concluded that creating small anthropoid animal figures wearing armor wouldn’t be be grounds for a copyright lawsuit (possibly because it’s been done dozens of times before).
That said, DST has been pretty cagey when discussing the rights question, which suggests to me they’re aware they’re treading a fine line. You’ll notice the new DST Battle Beasts designs have a distinct “fantasy” look to them instead of the sci-fi armor of the vintage figures and DST’s earlier alligator Minimate BB exclusive. I suspect this was done deliberately to differentiate DST’s new franchise from the vintage one owned by TakaraTomy.
If the scenario I’ve described is accurate – and please remember this is all speculation right now – DST is in a somewhat tricky position. They want to capitalize on collector nostalgia for the vintage line, but because the only own the trademark and not the license, they have to go out of their way to make sure the figures don’t look too much like the vintage versions.
I was never into Battle Beasts myself, so I can’t speak to how disappointed its fans will be if they can’t get updates of their favorite vintage figures. With its funny, quirky designs, Battle Beasts does strike me as the sort of toy line where kids had their favorites. But without a vintage cartoon (there was a very short-lived comic, which scarcely counts) to allow kids to develop attachments to specific characters, I think it’s possible the “Battle Beasts” name and slew of little animal figures will be enough for most collectors.
But again, I’m not a Battle Beasts fan, so I welcome your opinions. Post below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.