Years before there was an Angry Birds video game, pet accessory maker Hartz partnered with Seattle artist Juli Adams to release a line of Angry Birds cat toys. A lawsuit filed by Adams this week alleges Hartz unlawfully took her trademarked designs and turned them into a licensing partnership with game developer Rovio that could be worth millions.
According to a statement issued today by the artists' attorneys, Hartz Mountain Corporation representatives first approached Juli Adams after discovering her work at a one of the many Pacific Northwest art fairs she attended in the mid-2000s. Adams was asked to create a line of pet toys based on her unique style — the results of which can be seen above.
"When I was first approached, Hartz wanted me to have complete artistic freedom," Adams said via official statement. "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."
According to the lawsuit, Hartz entered into an excluisve agreement with Adams in November 2006, an agreement which specifically stated there would be "no transfer of ownership" of the Angry Birds property from Adams to Hartz.
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In March of 2007, Hartz filed a trademark for the 'Angry Birds' name as pertaining to pets toys. That trademark still stands today.
The lawsuit claims that Hartz leveraged that trademark to enter into a licensing deal with Angry Birds game developer Rovio in 2011. Juli's designs were swapped out with characters directly from the hit franchise, and her royalty checks dried up.
From the official statement:
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."
Now Adams is seeking compensation from Hartz based on the revenue generated via the trademark.
Note that Adams' lawsuit only targets Hartz — she lays no claim to the Angry Birds video game franchise or its characters. Her issue is with Hartz Mountain Corporation allegedly using her property to ink a deal with Rovio, without affording her any consideration or compensation.
Interested in long legal documents? Here's the whole case, via Gamasutra.