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WHAT DID THE RKO LOGO HAVE THAT LEO THE LION LACKED?

Enough is enough: I’ve been watching old movies my whole life and never understood why the end card of every RKO Radio Picture included the words “Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.” With pandemic time on my hands I set out to find the answer.




After all, Leo the MGM lion bore the words TRADE and MARK on either side of the roaring beast, putting to rest a childhood belief that Trade and Mark were the names of the Smith Brothers of cough-drop fame.



My friend Eric Kurland, who has mastered the art of internet research, checked the files of the U.S. Patent Office online and discovered that in 1929 the newly-formed Radio Pictures filed a trademark claim, NOT on their impressive image of a radio tower atop a spinning globe. This was for the inverted-triangle graphic design that appeared at the end of every studio release, accompanied by the company name “Radio Pictures.”  (Note that this occurred before the addition of RKO to the company name.) Here is the actual application:



Word MarkRADIO PICTURES
Goods and Services(EXPIRED) IC 009. US 026. G & S: FILMS ADAPTED FOR REPRODUCTION AND CONTAINING RECORDED IMAGES OF PICTURES AND/OR RECORDED SOUND. FIRST USE: 19290123. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19290123
Mark Drawing Code(3) DESIGN PLUS WORDS, LETTERS, AND/OR NUMBERS
Serial Number71278717
Filing DateJanuary 31, 1929
Current Basis1A
Original Filing Basis1A
Registration Number0266145
Registration DateJanuary 14, 1930
Owner(LAST LISTED OWNER) R K O PRODUCTIONS INC. CORPORATION DELAWARE NEW YORK NEW YORK
DisclaimerTHE WORD “PICTURES” FORMS A PART OF THE REGISTRATION SOUGHT ONLY IN COMBINATION AND IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE OTHER FEATURES OF THE MARK SHOWN IN THE DRAWING.
Description of MarkTHE LINING IN THE DRAWING IS FOR THE PURPOSE OF INDICATING SHADING ONLY
Type of MarkTRADEMARK
RegisterPRINCIPAL
Live/Dead IndicatorDEAD


The government agency that processes all this material was founded 185 years ago. Today it is called the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and is a division of the Department of Commerce. It facilitates the issuing of patents to inventors and trademarks to owners of products and intellectual property.



So why did some companies choose to boast of their registration while others, like Universal and 20th Century Fox, didn’t? We may never know. (Leon Schlesinger’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were also Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.) RKO even inserted a Registration mark (an R in a circle) onscreen in the opening credits of their latter-day features, so these matters kept company lawyers busy.



You can see the inverted-triangle logo painted on a soundstage wall facing Gower Street in Hollywood, with contract player Anne Shirley in the foreground in this 1934 photo. It remained intact until Desilu Productions purchased RKO and its facilities in 1957; in 1962, Paramount bought out Desilu and merged the neighboring studio facilities. When my wife and I moved to Hollywood in 1983 the original trademark was still faintly visible, along with the freshly-painted Paramount logo, peeking out under several coats of whitewash.



In 1994 Paramount commissioned the renowned underwater artist Robert Wyland to create a mural that filled the entire wall of Stage 29. Nothing against whales, or Wyland, but I’m glad I had a chance to photograph it first!

Now, whenever I see that legend “Reg. U.S. Pat. Off” at the end of King Kong, Swing Time, or Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost, I’ll know what it means… sort of.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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