The Licensing Blog

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4Kids May Close London Office

According to sources, 4Kids Entertainment is in the process of closing its London office. The company has yet to make a formal statement. 4Kids has seen several upheavals over the past few years, including reports of financial difficulties, the departure of chairman and CEO Al Kahn, and entering into Chapter 11 bankruptcy following a lawsuit concerning the Yu-Gi-Oh property. The company has also discontinued operations in four of its divisions: 4Kids Ad Sales, 4Kids Production, 4Kids Entertainment Music, and 4Kids Entertainment Home Video.

Hasbro Files Lawsuit Against Asus over Transformer Prime Tablet

Hasbro is accusing Asus of trademark infringement with the release of the Transformer Prime tablet.

The toymaker claimed in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court last week that the electronics maker is creating confusion by blending the Transformers and Optimus Prime names. Hasbro said in a statement that Asus is counting on consumers associating the new tablet with children’s toys to sell the Transformer Prime. Hasbro is seeking damages and an injunction preventing sales of the tablet.

The 10.3-inch tablet transforms into what is essentially an Android-based laptop when connected to an optional keyboard/dock.

Central News Agency’s Focus Taiwan news channel reported that production of the Asus Transformer Prime tablet will continue and will not be affected by a trademark infringement lawsuit, according to Asus spokesman Chang Wei-ming. Internal assessments conducted by the company found no patent infringement issues, and the company feels that the lawsuit is unlikely to affect production, Chang said.

Marketing the Muppets, One Joke at a Time

The Muppets movie doesn’t hit theaters until November 23, but Disney is making sure everyone is aware that The Muppets are coming. The Muppets’ official trailer even declares: “Get ready for Muppet domination.” While four months away from release, the movie’s promotion relies on spoof marketing.

Coinciding with the July 22 release of Captain America, The Muppets’ marketing team rolled out a poster of Sam the Eagle as Captain America. We’ve also seen two other promotional posters this month, showing the whole Muppets gang back together. Enjoyable as those posters may be—who doesn’t smile from seeing a Muppet? —Captain America in Muppet form and Green Lantern Kermit have greater potential for retweets.

Disney released a Muppets teaser trailer parodying the Green Lantern film the day it hit theaters in June. Even if you’re weirded out by seeing Muppet feet, you have to admit Kermit makes a captivating Green Lantern in the accompanying poster.

Aside from the spoofs, plans have begun to roll out for the merchandise program. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers will launch a new Muppets publishing program this fall in conjunction with the film. The Muppets book program will comprise seven titles in an array of formats featuring Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and other favorite characters. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers’ launch consists of a junior novel that features eight pages of full-color photos from the film, two early readers, a giant sticker book, and a punch-out-and-play Muppet theater. The line also features a hardcover joke book perfect for holiday gift giving and the first in an original illustrated middle-grade series about a boy who wakes up as a Muppet.

Beginning August 23, Starbucks will have The Muppets: The Green Album available for purchase. Described as a tribute to the music of the Muppets, the album includes “Muppet Show Theme Song” recorded by OK Go, “Mahna Mahna” by The Fray, and “Bein’ Green” by Andrew Bird, among its 12 tracks. The album cover uses the artists’ names to form an image of Kermit’s face.

For those in New York City, the Museum of the Moving Image launched an exhibition and film screenings from July 16-January 16. Muppet fans can reminisce by watching the classic Muppets films dating back to 1979 and 1980s and the concept Muppet films of the 1990s—perfect preparation for Jason Segel’s approach to creating the upcoming film.

“I’ve just grown a little disappointed with ‘Muppets in the Old West,’ ‘Muppets Under Water,’ and all these weird concept movies,” Segel told MTV. “I just want to go take it back to the early ‘80s, when it was about the Muppets trying to put on a show. That’s what I’m trying to bring back.”

The Awl’s Elizabeth Stevens looks further at the evolution of The Muppets. And see The Licensing Blog’s roundup of The Muppets trailers.

Judge Rules Marvel Owns Copyright to Comics
In other licensing news, a federal judge in New York granted a summary judgment to Marvel Entertainment and its parent company, the Walt Disney Company, regarding their dispute with the heirs to comic book artist Jack Kirby, according to Michael Cieply’s article in The New York Times. The judge denied the Kirbys’ request for judgment against the two companies.

The ruling rejects the Kirby family’s claim to comics and characters, including the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, and the X-Men, created by Jack Kirby, and instead declares them as works for hire.

Fox Partners with Santa Cruz Skateboards

Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products signed Santa Cruz Skateboards to produce a line featuring characters and iconography from The Simpsons. Available this fall, board designs include a custom Bart Simpson skateboard with his spiky-hared skull and cross bones on the base plate, and a board shaped like a can of Duff Beer. The line is geared toward the hardcore skater or collector.

Melissa Tinklepaugh

Zuckerberg Says “No” To Action Figure

According to a recent report by Gawker, if you want to add a Mark Zuckerberg figurine to your pop culture action figure collection, you might just be out of luck.

M.I.C. (Made in China) Gadget, the company behind the “Zuckerdoll” action figure, has ceased Zuckerdoll sales following a legal letter from Facebook’s legal counsel in China.

According to the letter, by selling the figurines on a website, the company used Zuckerberg’s portraiture “for commercial purpose and infringed his legitimate right.”

Facebook’s trademark “F” was also used on the action figures, which has also infringed Facebook’s trademark right.

M.I.C. issued an apology and said they will comply.

Cautionary Tale About a Couch

Celebrities license their names to all sorts of things. You name it, a celeb is probably backing it. Ideally, permission is given well in advance of the product hitting the shelves. This, however, was not the case concerning the “Ian Leather Sofa” from Crate & Barrel.

A tribute to the Studio 54 owner turned hotelier Ian Schrager, the businessman is putting the furniture company over a barrel with a cease-and-desist letter concerning the namesake couch.

Why? Schrager reserves the use of his name for his own brand.

Crate & Barrel take note: Discussing a licensing agreement with Schrager right off the bat probably would have avoided some embarrassment.

You live and you learn, right?

Busted: Elvis Presley Enterprises Cracks Whip on Bootleg Ring

Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. has taken legal action to stop the commercial sale and distribution of a DVD/CD set that included recordings and audiovisual footage of Elvis Presley concert performances. Working with a team of investigators, EPE was able to track down the individuals they believe to be behind the release and distribution of the box set.

As of today, EPE has begun action in the Chancery Division of the High Court, England and Wales, against Joseph Pirzada, the alleged source of the infringing materials in the box set.

On February 2, 2011, EPE also filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court, Northern District of Florida, against Bud Glass, an Elvis Presley memorabilia collector, for the alleged illegal sale and distribution of the box set in the United States.

EPE is currently reviewing the evidence and considering filing additional lawsuits against other individuals responsible for the manufacture, sale, and release of this particular box set as well as other bootleg recordings and merchandise.

On February 1, 2011, Elvis Presley Enterprises was also awarded summary judgment against Agostino Carollo (DJ Spankox) in the Chancery Division of the High Court, England and Wales.

In 2009, Carollo requested permission from EPE to create a remix album of Elvis Presley Christmas classics. While the parties had entered into an agreement in 2008 with respect to his first album of Elvis Presley remixes and a follow-up album, EPE advised Carollo in 2009 that it would not support nor endorse such a Christmas remix album. Nevertheless, Carollo released the Christmas remix album, which included EPE’s trademarks, logos, and photographs.

Update to Innovation First Lawsuit Against MGA

From our friends at The Toy Book:

MGA Entertainment has responded to claims by Innovation First that allege MGA copied its Hexbug Nano line. In a press release, MGA stated that Innovation First has not served the company with a lawsuit. MGA is also stating that Innovation First admitted, as part of a sworn testimony last month to a federal judge in Los Angeles, that “the outward appearance of the current ‘Legend of Nara Battling Bugs’ toys from MGA . . . is substantially different from the outward appearance of the Hexbug Nano that the trade dress and copyright laws do not appear to be implicated.” MGA says that at the testimony Innovation First did not have any infringement claims against MGA’s Nara Bug. MGA is seeking a dismissal of the lawsuit.

Breaking News: MGA Sued for Allegedly Copying Innovation First’s HEXBUG Nano Toy

A lawsuit asserting claims for common law misappropriation and unjust enrichment was filed last week against MGA Entertainment, Inc. in the 354th Judicial District Court for Hunt County, Texas. The lawsuit accuses MGA of manufacturing, advertising, promoting, distributing and/or selling products that were derived from innovative components of the HEXBUG Nano micro robotic toy, created by Innovation First, and seeks to recover any profits MGA has made or will make from the similar toy.

Tip of the Week: Licensor Required Insurance, by Andrew Richmond

In a license agreement, the licensor often requires the licensee to maintain various insurance policies and, for some of those policies, add the licensor’s name to the policy for the term of the agreement plus a post-expiration period.

Before entering a license agreement, a licensee should confirm with its insurance provider that the licensee: a) has in place (or can secure in a timely fashion) coverage for the licensor-required policies; b) has (or can secure) sufficient coverage to meet the licensor’s minimum (e.g., per occurrence) and maximum (e.g. aggregate) limits; c) can add the licensor as an additional named insured; and d) can provide certificate(s) of insurance to licensor within the licensor-proscribed time period. Below is a brief recap of the more common licensor-required policies:

General Liability: Comprehensive policy which covers contractual liability (covers insured in the event that insurer fails to perform under the contract); products liability (covers insured from liability that may incur as the result of some defect in insurer’s manufactured or sold product); property damage (covers insured from property damage from insurer’s defective product); and personal injury (covers insured against personal injuries from insurer’s defective product). Although some license agreements may not require general liability insurance, one or more of these components, most commonly product liability insurance, will be required.

Advertisers Liability: Covers insured against claims for libel, slander, defamation, infringement of copyright, invasion of privacy, etc., arising out of insurer’s advertising program, and may not be applicable if licensee does not advertise its licensed products.

Workers’ Compensation: Covers employees for any injury arising out of and in the course of employment. All states have laws that require such protection for workers and prescribe the length and amount of such benefits provided. A licensor will not require its name to be added to the licensee’s workers’ comp policy and this policy is less frequently addressed in the license agreement.

Errors and Omissions Insurance: Covers insured for mistakes made by non-medical professionals for business mistakes, and also less-frequently required.

“Tip of the Week,” is written by attorney Andrew Richmond, president of the Richmond Management Group, Inc. (RMG). Andy has more than 15 years of business and legal affairs experience with such companies as Fox, Hallmark, Jakks Pacific, and Sony. Currently, as president of RMG, Andy provides his clients with business and legal affairs representation, with a focus on licensing, promotions, marketing, and related matters.  Andy can be reached at andy@richmondmanagement.com.

Tip of the Week: Evaluation of Prospective Licensee, By Andrew Richmond

During initial negotiations between a licensor and prospective licensee, a licensor will want to know as much as possible about the prospective licensee. A licensor should perform research to determine whether the licensee is the right fit for representing the licensor’s property, taking into consideration the following factors:

Financials: If the company is publicly traded, the licensor should review reliable, third party finance websites, which will have detailed information on the company. If the company is privately held, the licensor will need to purchase a third-party prepared report (e.g., Dun & Bradstreet report), which includes collected data detailing a company’s credit-worthiness and financial stability. These types of financial data provide the licensor with needed nuts-and-bolts information vital in assessing whether the prospective licensee has the financial ability to succeed with the license opportunity.

Referrals and Recommendations: The licensor should contact other licensors who previously worked with the company to get their assessment of a prospective licensee’s adherence to license agreement provisions, quality and timeliness of work, sales efforts and achievements, payment history, availability for discussions, etc.

Samples: The licensor should require prospective licensees to send samples of past work.

In-person Assessment: The licensor should request a visit to a prospective licensee’s corporate offices, factories, warehouses, etc. This look into the prospective licensee’s business provides the licensor with the opportunity to engage in face-to-face conversations and observe the company’s business operations. Nothing impresses more than a well-run, professional operation.

“Tip of the Week,” is written by attorney Andrew Richmond, president of the Richmond Management Group, Inc. (RMG). Andy has more than 15 years of business and legal affairs experience with such companies as Fox, Hallmark, Jakks Pacific, and Sony. Currently, as president of RMG, Andy provides his clients with business and legal affairs representation, with a focus on licensing, promotions, marketing, and related matters.  Andy can be reached at andy@richmondmanagement.com.

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