Grumpy Cat, the feline who became an Internet sensation in 2012, has retained one of Hollywood’s most notable litigators in an intellectual property battle against a beverage company marketing such products as a branded iced-coffee beverage called “Grumpy Cat Grumppuccino.”
On Friday, attorney Marty Singer filed a lawsuit on behalf of Grumpy Cat Limited in California federal court. It begins, “Ironically, while the world-famous feline Grumpy Cat and her valuable brand are most often invoked in a tongue-and-cheek fashion, Defendants’ despicable misconduct here has actually given Grumpy Cat and her owners something to be grumpy about.”
According to the complaint, Grenade Beverage entered into an exclusive licensing agreement in 2013 to license the cat’s copyrights and trademarks for coffee products. Grumpy Cat was to get royalties as well as an advance, and the lawsuit alleges that additional product offerings would require further negotiations and approval.
But then came new “Grumpy Cat” branded roasted coffee ground products.
“Although, as required by the License Agreement, Defendants sought Plaintiff’s approval of use of the Licensed Properties in connection with the proposed roasted coffee ground product, Plaintiff never approved such use,” states the complaint. “Rather, Defendants were repeatedly told by Plaintiff (both in writing and verbally) that the Licensed Properties could not be used in connection with a roasted coffee ground product.”
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants went forward with marketing the roasted coffee grounds product on social media and have been selling other unauthorized products including a “Grumppuccinno” t-shirt. Grumpy Cat also alleges not being provided monthly accountings and royalty payments. Finally, the registration of www.grumpycat.com is claimed to be an act of cybersquatting.
In May 2013, Grumpy Cat got a movie deal, and at the time, we wondered whether the feline and her owners could really protect likeness rights.
This lawsuit goes into the many ways that the intellectual property of Grumpy Cat is theorized as being protected.
For example, the plaintiff claims to own federal trademark registrations for an “image mark” — which appears in the lawsuit as a quasi emoji:
Then, there’s copyrights. The plaintiff has registered all sorts of photographs and illustrations including the following:
Grumpy Cat Limited is now seeking an injunction plus damages for copyright and trademark infringement. There’s also a breach-of-contract claim that could also be the focus of the dispute. Here’s the full complaint. The defendant hasn’t yet responded to an opportunity given for comment.