The characters of the Star Wars film series are all iconic for one reason or another: Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, Princess Leia’s hair, and Chewbacca’s growl come to mind. And when it comes to villain Darth Vader’s characterization, perhaps what is even more widely known than his mask and cape is the sound of his mechanical breathing.
That sound is something that Lucasfilm, the company run by Star Wars creator George Lucas, protects from infringement thanks to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
This type of trademark is referred to as a non-visual mark or “soundmark” by the USPTO. Like a trademark, the soundmark is also used to protect intellectual property from infringement.
The USPTO showed off the application for Vader’s signature breathing, filed in 2008, on its Twitter profile on Monday, Oct. 6. It also included details about the “specimen” sent in, which was a CD with all 234 seconds of the iconic inhaling and exhaling, and mentioned the fee Lucasfilm paid for the application — $325.
So what’s the reason for a soundmark? In the case of Lord Vader, the soundmark serves as a protection that applies to costumes and masks, voice-altering toys, toy computers, and any action figures or other figurines authorized by Lucasfilm. This means other companies can’t sell unlicensed Vader products (or anything else Star Wars-related, for that matter).
Also featured on the USPTO application is a reference to Ben Burtt, the sound engineer who created Vader’s breath. Lucasfilm’s attorneys described the sound as “rhythmic mechanical human breathing created by breathing through a scuba tank regulator.”
Vader’s breath isn’t the only such soundmark filed with the USPTO. The organization also has a webpage with other trademarked sounds, such as NBC’s chimes, MGM’s roaring lion, and the “logo theme” (or “Deep Note”) for Lucasfilm’s THX system.