As we wrote in a post last week, protecting your intellectual property has never been more important than it is now in the internet age. This is true for software developers, but also for anyone with a marketable idea, song or image. Fortunes can be made online by leveraging the unlikeliest of viral sensations.
A good example of this phenomenon is "Grumpy Cat," a real housecat who always appears to be wearing a frown (partially due to an under-bite). In 2012, when some of the cat's pictures were shared online, the feline became an internet meme. Since that time, Grumpy Cat's owners have apparently been able to secure lucrative deals to license trademarks and copyrights associated with the cat's likeness.
Recently, Grumpy Cat Limited demonstrated that it is serious about retaining control of its intellectual property. The company filed a lawsuit against Grenade Beverage for violating its licensing agreement.
In 2013, California company Grenade Beverage reportedly signed a licensing agreement to use Grumpy Cat and related imagery on its coffee products. The license agreement specified that Grenade would need to get authorization if it wanted to expand use of the Grumpy Cat likeness to any additional products.
Grenade later sought permission for expanded product lines but was expressly denied. According to the lawsuit, the beverage company nonetheless began marketing unauthorized products including a roasted coffee grounds product and t-shirts. The plaintiffs are now suing Grenade Beverage for copyright and trademark infringement and are seeking damages as well as an injunction.
This is a real-life example of how an internet sensation can become a profitable business venture if its creators are savvy enough to protect their intellectual property. It is also an example of how important it is to seek qualified legal help when drafting and enforcing licensing agreements and other contracts.