“Lightsaber” controversy: The Empire Strikes Back

A few weeks ago we reported on an ultra-powerful laser pointer made available for public sale and many of you commented in negative terms. It’s now emerged that George Lucas shares your dislike.

As you can probably imagine, Lucas’ company is not just concerned with safety, but with intellectual property. It has written to the manufacturers, Wicked Lasers, claiming “It is apparent from the design of the Pro Arctic Laser that it was intended to resemble the hilts of our LIGHTSABER swords, which are protected by copyright and trade dress laws.” (Trade dress refers to the packaging or appearance of a product.)

The letter goes on to claim that press coverage which mentions the similarities means that “Wicked Laser’s adoption of the LIGHTSABER trade dress in connection with the Pro Arctic Laser has caused confusion among consumers, who believe that the Pro Artic Laser is endorsed, affiliated, or sponsored by Lucasfilm.”

(From an editorial perspective, although we referred to the device as a “real lightsaber”, and though we certainly spotted the visual similarities, we find it difficult to believe any of our readers would have concluded there was any official connection to the Star Wars prop whatsoever.)

Lucasfilms is now threatening legal action if Wicked Lasers does not immediately withdraw existing units from sale and then modify the design to “clearly distinguish” the device from a “real” LIGHTSABER. They also want the company to add a disclaimer on the website and packaging to make clear that there is no connection with the movie prop.

Wicked Lasers says the design of its laser pointer is fairly typical in the market and is not a copy of the prop. It suspects this may simply be a case of Lucasfilms complaining for the sake of appearances so that it can’t be accused of failing to defend its intellectual property in future cases.

The manufacturer also notes that since the interest from the media coverage it has modified the laser to add a safety lock as well as shipping it with a removable lens which lowers the laser’s power considerably when fresh out of the box.

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