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Dish Networks Fights Dennis Hopper Estate Over 'Hopper' Name

The satellite TV giant warns of consumer confusion between the ad-skipping DVR and a dead celebrity.

Charlie Ergen Headshot - P 2013
AP Images
Dish co-founder Charlie Ergen

As Dish Networks continues to engage the major TV broadcasters over whether the ad-skipping DVR known as Hopper constitutes a violation of copyright law, the satcaster is now involved in a trademark battle.

Its new adversary is the Trustees of the Hopper Art Trust, otherwise known as late actor Dennis Hopper's estate.

In 2012, two years after the Easy Rider actor died, the trustees registered "Hopper" as a trademark for a class of goods that included sunglasses, motorcycle helmets and all sorts of electronic devices. On Jan. 31, the Trademark Office put out a notice of publication on the mark.

This week, Dish Network objected to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

According to Dish's notice of objection, the Dennis Hopper "Hopper" mark "is likely, when used in connection with the goods covered by the subject application, to cause confusion, to cause mistake or to deceive, with consequent injury to [Dish Networks] and the public."

Dish says it filed an "intent to use application" back in September of 2011 -- before Dennis Hopper's trustees, before TV broadcasters realized what Charlie Ergen's company was up to -- on "Hopper" in a class of goods covering electrical and scientific apparatus. Now, the company is suggesting that consumers are going to be confused about the source of goods.

Besides being an actor, Dennis Hopper was an avid photographer and artist. He reportedly left behind a $40 million fortune that triggered a trust battle over his property -- particularly over some famous paintings.

The Hopper name holds some cache in the artistic community and probably in the biker community too. But Dish Networks wants to protect itself from anybody associating the "Hopper" brand with its award-winning, legally-controversial DVR.

Branding vs. ad-skipping.

Meanwhile, in the larger-stakes Hopper battles, ABC is now up before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in a bid to overturn a New York federal judge's refusal to issue an injunction. The network is attempting to do better than Fox, which struck out at the 9th Circuit. Regardless of the outcome at the appellate circuits, the disputes will continue at the district court level. There, the various broadcasters are asserting that Dish is giving its customers an unlicensed VOD service that violates copyrights and is a breach of contract.

Of course, there could always be a settlement. Last September, Dish's carriage contract with ABC parent Disney was scheduled to expire. To avoid a blackout, the parties agreed to a short-term extension. And in December, Dish and ABC lawyers told the judge that as part of a renegotiation on retransmission, the discussions could include the "potential resolution" of the Hopper case.

Talks continue. Just don't expect Dennis Hopper's help.

E-mail: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner