Harry Potter and the IP empire

29th May 2024

When it comes to intellectual property, JK Rowling and Warner Bros are definitely sorcerers.

HP castle.jpg

The Harry Potter empire offers a multitude of merchandising possibilities, from the seven books and eight films to the theme parks, wands and the upcoming TV series.


Firstly, a little explanation on the rights divide between J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. The latter owns the film rights to the Happy Potter movies and TV series and Rowling owns the character rights.

This clear divide allows the author to control all use made by Warner Bros. and their licensees, so the story stays as close to her original intentions as possible.

Evaluate your potential before you launch:

But before all of this, it is very important to protect your brand. Trade mark squatters are only one of the possible issues which can face media successes, and Harry Potter was no exception.

No trade mark was filed when the first book was published in 1997. No agreement had been signed with Warner Bros at that point.

However, this mistake was promptly corrected with the involvement of Warner Bros, which filed the first UK and EU Trade Marks for a very small specification covering the books and very basic merchandising products (including figures, clothing and games) in 1998.

At Stobbs we are proud to employ the man who sat up all night reading the books, in order to draft a suitable specification and identify all the names that were likely to be significant to the franchise – not easy when the future of the stories was shrouded in mystery.

The initial protection was limited and increased over time as the saga of the wizarding world developed in scale and scope.


When it comes to trade mark protection, Warner Bros realised the potential of the Harry Potter franchise very early on.

Not only have they protected HARRY POTTER, but also the name of his friends, all the other characters (humans or not and even the minor characters), and all the other elements which are part of the Harry Potter world.

This includes the infamous BUTTERBEER, some of the spells (like Ridikukus, Accio, Expecto Patronum), the famous Diagon Alley and other elements which the fans would be aware of.

These marks are protected for a wide range of goods including merchandise, jewellery, stationery, wallets, bags, beddings, clothing, games, toys and drinks, movies) as well as services. It is possible for a specification to be wide, offering strong rights while the IP owner works out licensing arrangements.  

In the UK and the EU for example, the applicant has five years from the date of application to use the mark. After that date, the registration is vulnerable to revocation for non-use.

It is important, before filing an application to list your short- and medium-term plans for your brand, to get adequate protection.

Expansion abroad:

Poudlard (Hogwarts), Vif d’or (Golden Snitch), Serpentard (Slytherin), Serdaigle (Ravenclaw), Moldu (Muggle), 霍格莫德 (Hogsmeade) and 海格 (Hagrid) all are words which will resonate for the fans around the world who are not native English speakers. As the books got translated into 88 different languages, the need to protect the assets in various languages arose. Once again, the empire expanded, this time all around the world.

Other alphabets like the Cyrillic, Japanese and Arabic alphabets should also be considered for your brand if countries of interest to you use these alphabets.  

However, even with its international fame, it is worth noting that the HARRY POTTER brand is not protected in every single country in the world – only in the ones in which it is in use.

Trade mark protection has to align with your use and intended use of your brand and a cost-benefit analysis has to be conducted before filing new trade mark applications.

Unconventional merchandising:

The Harry Potter marks also cover less conventional merchandising goods and services like theme parks, theatre productions, food products and medical products.

Even though on first look, the specifications filed are very broad, Warner Bros. showed a good insight on their future expansion plans on the Harry Potter World.

The London theme park has welcomed over 17 million visitors since 2012. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is being constructed at the moment and should open in summer 2025 in Orlando. Others can be found in Beijing, Osaka and California.  

In these theme parks and on the online shop, the possibilities for merchandising are endless. Harry Potter fans can buy sweets branded with the well-known HONEYDUKES’ shop name. They can also quench their thirst with a famous BUTTERBEER.

For the most dedicated fans, they can even buy the gown Hermione wore during the Yule Ball in the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The fans can also buy nail files, make up, kitchen utensils, baking cutter sets, and more branded to their favourite character or Hogwarts House.

Less conventional goods can work as merchandising for your brand if they fit the feel of the world that’s being created, the Nice Classification is the limit.


Another opportunity to expand a merchandising empire is licensing. For some products, the best option might be to team up with top companies in their fields.

Warner Bros recognised this and partnered with the company which produces Band-Aid® and Lego®. Kids with a little cut can heal with their favourite character and fans of the famous construction blocks can combine their two passions.

With licensing, the possibilities are endless. If you would prefer not to produce any or all of the merchandise, it is possible to find a licensee with the relevant competence who can produce and sell any or all of the goods of interest to you.


Soon after the first book was published and even more after the movies launched, enforcement has been at the heart of Warner Bros. preoccupation.

Trade mark squatters began to appear and for example the following mark has been filed in China one year after the first movie came out by an individual who appears to be unrelated to Warner Bros or J.K. Rowlings:. This application was soon refused by the Chinese Office.

Warner Bros. also appears, thanks to its striking power and international presence, to be in charge of the trade mark enforcement to ensure that there is no trade mark infringement, coat tailing or dilution of reputation.

To maintain your trade mark rights and their strength, it is crucial to have an enforcement strategy, stick to it and revise it in accordance with your medium and long term plans for your brand.

To enforce trade mark rights once they have reached a certain age, a mark usually has to be in use. With the book, the movie, the various theme parks and the upcoming TV series, use of the Harry Potter brand has never ceased.

Plan ahead:

J.K. Rowling has a strong hold over the Harry Potter universe and protects it fiercely. To do so, she holds meetings twice a year to discuss the future of the universe and prepare ideas on its strategic direction. Her constant involvement is a testament to the renown of the Harry Potter series and the reason the popularity has not faded in almost thirty years.

She also plans beyond her own lifetime for her beloved characters and has decided to leave nothing to chance. She has already planned for the literary rights to be managed by a literary trust after her passing. Her representative will hold perpetual veto power. Her aim is for her vision and legacy to remain protected.

All of these points should be reviewed on a regular basis, especially if your strategy evolves through time depending on the size of your business, your expansion plans in terms of territory and offering, etc.