While some missiles are referred to by acronyms or convoluted strings of characters (we see you there, MGM-140 ATACMS), there are others with names that have entered the American lexicon — Minuteman is likely the most famous, but the Tomahawk is close behind. Its name shows up in video games and in books, but it also has a unique history in the Trademark Office — it appears to be the first major named missile with a trademark registration.

In 1978, the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) applied for the TOMAHAWK trademark for “Air Vehicles – Namely, Cruise Missiles.” The use of the term “air vehicles” is apt, because a cruise missile is commonly called “a small, pilotless airplane” (as opposed to a ballistic missile which is initially powered to high altitude and then uses gravity to hit its target). This term is also important because of how the trademark application was filed. As it turned out, the ONR wasn’t the only party using TOMAHAWK for air vehicles – it had a competitor in Piper Aircraft Corporation and their PA-38 Tomahawk airplane. Relying on its potential claim of infringement, the ONR filed a Petition to Make Special and expedited its application, citing to its use of the TOMAHAWK mark since 1976.

While the trademark examiner was convinced, Piper was not, and filed an opposition to the TOMAHAWK application. After three years of proceedings, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board dismissed the Piper opposition in December 1982, and the path was clear for the mark to register in 1983. That same year, McDonnell Douglas Corp. introduced the Tomahawk to service in the U.S. Navy.

Six years later, in 1989, the ONR submitted its renewal paperwork for the trademark, providing a now-unclassified document packet showing the continued use of the TOMAHAWK name. This packet includes surprisingly mundane packing sheets for, among other things, Tomahawk golf towels and Tomahawk pens. Notably, the Tomahawk name had come into common parlance by that time, with articles from The Washington Post included in the packet.

The Tomahawk platform continued in service for the decades to come (most publicly in its first combat performance in Desert Storm), and the ONR efforts to maintain the trademark did the same. Renewed in 2003, the TOMAHAWK mark held its place for its third decade on the Principal Register until . . . no one filed the renewal paperwork. The 2013 notice came and went, as did subsequent notices, until the Trademark Office cancelled the TOMAHAWK mark on March 18, 2016. Someone was still paying attention, though: Raytheon’s trademark counsel. In 2016, Raytheon was the holder of the Tomahawk contract, and soon after ONR lost its mark Raytheon stepped into the gap, filing for TOMAHAWK covering

Design, engineering, research, development of, and testing of air defense missile systems and their components; technical consulting in the nature of design and development of missile systems and their components in the field of air defense missile systems; technical consultation services for others, namely, the technical analysis and evaluation of the engineering of missiles in the field of post flight operations, operational flight support, and flight failure, all of the preceding in relation to missiles; technical consultation services for others, namely, the technical analysis and evaluation of performance of missiles, for the purpose of quality control, in the field of post flight operations, operational flight support, and flight failure, all of the preceding in relation to missiles; technical support services, namely, troubleshooting in the nature of diagnosing problems with missile guidance testing equipment; repair and maintenance of simulation software and data recorded on software; repair and upgrade services for missile software; preparation of engineering reports for others comprised of missile technical and administrative data and documentation.

The Department of the Navy, home of the ONR, woke from its slumber at this point. Certainly the Navy must’ve realized the TOMAHAWK mark was now cancelled, but it isn’t clear if they knew about the Raytheon application. No matter — Navy filed a cleaner TOMAHAWK application (for “cruise missiles”) in November 2016 and in February 2017 received a suspension letter saying, essentially, “sorry kids, but you dropped the ball and Raytheon took the opportunity.” Navy was not amused by Raytheon, or by its own failure to maintain a mark with over 30 years of service and recognition, and it filed an extension of time to oppose the Raytheon application (a classic “shot across the bow,” which really couldn’t be more appropriate here if it tried).

And then came the great sea battle of 2018. Or not. Raytheon is full of intelligent people and did exactly what they were supposed to do — they filed an express abandonment of their application, and got out of the way so Navy could get their mark back.

Over 40 years after the original TOMAHAWK trademark application, Navy found itself the proud owner of a trademark registration in January 2019. The mark, like the weapon system itself, has seen four decades of action, and looks set to see a few decades more — if properly maintained.

The author, James Creedon, serves as the Command Judge Advocate for the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, U.S. Strategic Command. The views presented are his alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense or its components.