Lawsuit Contends CBS Doesn't Own Term Coined by 'I Love Lucy' Stars

The trademark fight concerns "Desilu."
Courtesy of Photofest
'I Love Lucy' (1952)

CBS may enjoy rights to the television shows once belonging to Desilu Productions, including I Love Lucy, Star Trek and Mission Impossible, but a lawsuit alleges that CBS doesn't control "Desilu" itself.

Desilu Studios, founded in 2013 by Charles Hensley, is making this contention in a trademark lawsuit filed Monday in California federal court.

According to the complaint, Desilu Studios is a new, technology-focused film and television studio. Hensley obtained a trademark registration on "Desilu" in January with no opposition from CBS or anyone else. The complaint states that around the same time, Desilu Studios began conversations with Lucy Arnaz, the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who allegedly was excited about Desilu's resurrection.

"However, Desilu is informed and believes and, on the basis of such information and belief, herein alleges that CBS contacted Ms. Arnaz after learning about her developing relationship with Desilu, and instructed her not to have any further conversations with Desilu regarding the same," continues the complaint.

The original Desilu was coined by Ball and Desi Arnaz around 1950 for the production company behind I Love Lucy. After building up a film library, Desilu Productions was sold to Gulf & Western Industries, which became Paramount Pictures, which later became owned by Viacom.

According to the complaint, certain rights belonging to Desilu Productions were then transferred to CBS in 2005 around the time that Viacom and CBS split.

"However, Desilu is informed and believes and, on the basis of such information and belief, herein alleges that, in this transaction, Paramount specifically excluded some television rights, and did not transfer any of the rights to any of Desilu Productions’ feature film library," states the complaint. "CBS ensured this acquisition included specific trademark rights in many of the specific television programs it acquired, including all of the rights in every trademark related to I Love Lucy. To Desilu’s knowledge, however, CBS did not acquire any federally registered or common law trademark rights in any marks bearing the word 'Desilu.'”

Now, as CBS and Viacom discuss a new marriage, CBS confronts a lawsuit about what it actually owns. It's possible that CBS holds common law trademarks to "Desilu," but Hensley sees advantage in what he's now got registered.

The lawsuit not only seeks declaratory relief but also alleges CBS is committing infringement.

According to the complaint, "To the extent CBS has used the Competing Mark as a trademark in connection with competing television production and distribution services, CBS’ actions constitute trademark infringement..."

No word here just yet on any plans for an I Love Lucy reboot.