Today a Seattle artist filed a lawsuit (case number: 2:12-cv-01493-RSM)
against Hartz Mountain Corporation - one of the nation's largest
producers of pet-related products - claiming the company illegally sold
the artist's trademarked Angry Birds pet toy line to video game giant
Rovio Entertainment Ltd., robbing her of millions of dollars of royalty
fees, according to attorneys at Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro and Saltz
Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky.
The complaint, filed August 4, 2014, in the U.S. District Court for the
Western District of Washington, claims that Hartz never purchased the
intellectual property of the Angry Birds line of pet toys created by
Juli Adams before it entered into a separate agreement with Rovio,
makers of the wildly popular Angry Birds video game franchise.
Adams, who studied art at Evergreen College in Washington state, grew up
creating art and worked to make a living painting, selling her works at
art shows across the Pacific Northwest.
"It's a difficult road to take," she said. "I worked a couple jobs, all
of which I hated. At some point, it dawned on me - I needed to pursue my
art. But it's a difficult business, and the travel is demanding."
At the beginning of her art career, the artist was showcasing her work
at numerous art shows and upwards of 15 art fairs a year. It was at one
of these art fairs where Hartz discovered her work.
Years before the world knew Angry Birds, the video game, Hartz asked
Adams to create a pet toy line, according to the complaint. She designed
a pet toy line she dubbed "Angry Birds," plush toys for cats, partially
inspired by her own two felines.
"When I was first approached, Hartz wanted me to have complete artistic
freedom," Adams said. "I wanted to create a line of toys that looked a
little roughed up by your cat. I wanted to create the idea that they
were characters that knew they were going to be dragged around and were
upset about it. 'Angry Birds' seemed like the perfect name."
Adams said that as soon as her cats were left alone with the pet toy
prototypes, they would immediately pull the feathers from the birds,
adding to the roughed up look.
Hartz entered into an exclusive agreement with Adams in November 2006
which stated that there was to be "no transfer of ownership" of the
Angry Birds intellectual property from Adams to Hartz. The complaint
states that the agreement gave the toy compay only limited licensing
rights and did not give Hartz the right to license Adams' intellectual
property to third parties for its own profit.
Adams said that she believed this agreement with Hartz would help launch
her career as an artist.
"When I was flown off to the East Coast to meet with associates at
Hartz, that's when it started to feel real. They told me, 'This is going
to change your life,'" she said. "It got me really excited. I was
convinced it would turn things around for me."
After the launch of the popular Angry Birds video game in December 2009,
Hartz used Adams' intellectual property and the trademarked "Angry
Birds" name to leverage a deal with video game creator Rovio, the suit
states. The complaint adds that Hartz violated the agreement without
Adams' knowledge and permission, and without ownership of her
intellectual property or trademark.
Adams was then dumped by Hartz, according to the complaint, while the
toy company began issuing pet toys under the same Angry Birds name,
during which time the agreement between the company and artist was still
"Based on the international success of the Angry Birds video games, we
believe that Hartz has made tens, if not hundreds, of millions of
dollars from sales of the Angry Birds pet toys," said Anthony Shapiro,
partner at Hagens Berman and one of the attorneys representing Adams.
Hartz continues to sell the Angry Birds pet toy line without any legal
property rights to the trademark or any approval from Adams, according
to the complaint. The suit states that Hartz's last royalty payment to
Adams was in 2011 for $40.66.
According to Adams, Hartz told her that she could no longer use the name
"Angry Birds" due to a conflict.
"I assumed they were right. I didn't put two and two together until
later," she said. "It made me feel helpless. Here I am up against a big
company. It was scary and unnerving."
After the launching of the Angry Birds video game, Rovio sought
trademarks in a variety of product arenas, including children's toys,
clothing and cell phone accessories. However, the suit alleges that
Rovio's trademarks specifically excluded toys for pets, because that
trademark is and was registered to Hartz in 2007, after its agreement
Additional information about the suit is available at http://www.hbsslaw.com/cases-and-investigations/cases/Angry-Birds.
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights, class-action law
firm with offices in nine cities. The firm has been named to the
National Law Journal's Plaintiffs' Hot List seven times. More about the
law firm and its successes can be found at www.hbsslaw.com.
The firm's class-action law blog is located at www.classactionlawtoday.com.
About Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky,
Based in Philadelphia, PA, Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky is a law
firm that focuses on plaintiffs' personal injury and class action
matters. The attorneys at Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky have
achieved some of the largest verdicts and settlements in the history of
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and have served as lead or co-lead counsel
in a variety of consumer class actions filed around the country. More
about the firm can be found at www.smbb.com.
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