Darth Vader’s caped getup and face mask is spooky and all, but there’s nothing like the grisly, mechanical sound of his breath. Which is why Lucasfilm keeps a close eye on who uses it — even going so far as to trademark 234 seconds of it with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
According to the USPTO, this is what’s called a “soundmark”, and it’s more common than you’d think. In paperwork posted today to Twitter, we get a glimpse at what’s involved, from an application filed by Lucasfilm in 2009 to the actual “specimen” itself, sent to the USPTO on a compact disc for filing.
In the production company’s filing, it explains what types of uses this Vader soundmark will apply to, listing “Costumes including masks; voice altering toys”, as well as “toy computers; handheld playthings; dashboard driver figurines.” In other words, any knockoff Star Wars toy companies will need to lawyer up before using Vader’s iconic gasping in their wares.
There’s even a little reference to the sound engineer who created Vader’s mechanical breath, Ben Burtt. In a section of the trademark filing entitled “miscellaneous statement”, Lucasfilm’s attorneys describe the sound as “rhythmic mechanical human breathing created by breathing through a scuba tank regulator.” Here’s a great little interview with Burtt describing the process of designing the sound — and how the first experimental mixes made Vader sound like a “moving operating room.”