The Supreme Court has denied DC Comics' claim to the Superman trademark in Indonesia in the latest case of bizarre intellectual rights disputes in the Southeast Asian country. (Antara Photo/Yulius Satria Wijaya)

Up, Up and Away!: How DC Comics Loses the Superman Name in Indonesia

MAY 29, 2019

Jakarta. The Supreme Court has denied DC Comics' claim on the Superman trademark in Indonesia, in the latest case of bizarre intellectual rights disputes in the Southeast Asian country. 

While most Indonesians will recognize it as the name of the Kryptonian superhero, in the eyes of the country's legal system, Superman is no more than a name for a chocolate wafer bar. 

Surabaya-based company Marxing Fam Makmur, an affiliate of listed food and beverage maker Siantar Top, registered the name Superman as a brand for its chocolate wafer bar in 1993 and since then has renewed the trademark every 10 years.

Unlike Clark Kent's alter ego, the Superman wafer bar is not a rare commodity. Many Indonesians grew up eating it since it's cheap and you can find it in almost every warung.

(Courtesy of Siantar Top)
Classic old school Superman chocolate bar. (Courtesy of Siantar Top)

So when DC Comics tried to register its trademark for the squeaky clean superhero in March last year, they ran into a legal brick wall that even the Man of Steel cannot penetrate.

The intellectual property directorate general of the Law and Human Rights Ministry rejected DC Comics' trademark request, arguing that the Superman brand already has a lawful owner in Indonesia. 

The American publisher then went to the Jakarta District Court to sue Marxing Fam for registering the brand in bad faith, and demanded that the directorate general drop Marxing Fam's rights to the Superman name and give it back to DC Comics.

But on April 13 last year, the court ruled in favor of Marxing Fam and the directorate general. DC Comics' lawsuit was deemed inadmissible as it had combined three separate demands: canceling Marxing Fam's existing Superman trademark, granting DC Comics' trademark request and blocking all other requests by Marxing Fam to register the Superman name for itself.  

The court also ruled that DC Comics' attorneys, Prudence Jahja and friends, had acted beyond what their client had authorized. According to the court, the publisher's lawyers were only under order to pursue a cancelation of Marxing Fam's Superman trademark, but they then also asked the court to grant DC Comics' trademark request for the brand name. 

The Supreme Court upheld the Jakarta District Court's decision late last year, a court document showed on Wednesday. 

The case is the latest in a series of head-scratching trademark disputes in Indonesia.

The Indonesian government and courts have been known for granting trademark claims to the first company who registers a brand name with the trademark office. 

This is because the trademark law in Indonesia adheres to the "first to file," not "first to use" principle in granting trademark rights. 

A similar fate befell French fashion house Pierre Cardin, who could not use the brand in Indonesia because a Jakarta businessman has registered it first with the trademark office. 

California-based energy drink company Monster also lost its lawsuit against Surabaya businessman Andrias Thamrun, who had already registered the trademark for his own brand of energy drink.  

Even Swedish furniture giant Ikea has been proven powerless in the face of Indonesia's trademark law. In Indonesia, Ikea can't use its own brand name on furniture and household items made from rattan, because a Surabaya company was able to prove that the company had not used the Ikea name for those items for three consecutive years since 2010. Ikea can still use the name for its superstore in Alam Sutera near Jakarta.