Famous feline Grumpy Cat seeks US trademarks

Grumpy Cat takes a break to mull trademark options
The IPKat enjoys the large and friendly community of humans who share his interest but, on rare occasions, pines for other cat companionship. Imagine his delight, then, to discover that America's newest internet celebrity is not only a fellow feline, but one who is well-versed in intellectual property too.

The kitty in question is a Snowshoe Siamese with a permanent frown who goes by Grumpy Cat. The cat has achieved fame through sites like BuzzFeed where she worked for a day (see picture at right) and 
through a large music and tech festival in Texas where people lined up for hours to see her.

Grumpy Cat now has many trappings of fame -- including an IP lawyer. On behalf of the cat's owners, Tabatha and Bryan Bundesen, enterprising Los Angeles lawyer, Kia Kamran, is asking the USPTO to grant trademark rights to Grumpy Cat Incorporated. The applications cover the phrase "grumpy cat" and two image marks described as follows:
Grumpy Cat at work for BuzzFeed
The mark consists of the head and neck of a white feline with brown and black ears. The cat has green eyes with black pupils. Surrounding each eye of the cat is an irregular shaped circle consisting of brown, black and beige fur. The cat has white fur above its nose and surrounding its mouth. Its nose and mouth are outlined in pink and black. The cat's mouth is in a frown. Surrounding the mouth are white whiskers.
The subject matter for the proposed marks include a broad range of products, from t-shirts to beer steins to video games to mouse pads ("Put me down for one of those!" says the IPKat). Kamran explained to paidContent that he is already "swatting away impostors" and expects he will have to take action against the worst of them. He adds that he has already filed trademark suits on behalf of his other feline internet clients, Nyan Cat and Keyboard Cat, (these cats too have become internet memes).

Where to begin with all of this? Regular readers of the IPKat will recall that Grumpy Cat is hardly the only live animal in the IP news: even two years after his demise, adorable polar bear cub Knut is at the center of a trademark saga

Grumpy Cat has so far stayed out of court but, Merpel wonders, how much IP can a live cat claim? Outside of the anticipated trademarks, Kamran says the owners have copyright in the photo above but, after Grumpy Cat's star-turn in Texas, many others have photos of the feline too. Will the image mark described above (if granted) be sufficient to take action if these other photos make their way onto mugs and mouse pads too? And then there is the question of personality rights which, in America at least, do not apply to animals -- a regrettable (though no doubt necessary) sighs the IPKat.
Famous feline Grumpy Cat seeks US trademarks Famous feline Grumpy Cat seeks US trademarks Reviewed by Jeff John Roberts on Tuesday, March 26, 2013 Rating: 5


  1. "Grumpy Cat"'s name is "Tardar Source". The nyan cat is a fictionalised cat but is (I gather) based on one called "Marty". Tardar is (it is said) quite a cheery animal but anyone would look grumpy beside the nyan cat's infectious (or annoying depending on your cat tolerance) cheeriness.

    But one of the side effects of the rather arbitrary lines we draw in IP is that the nyan cat is protected by copyright (because it is a graphical work) but Tardar Source is not (because it is a real cat) even though pictures of it, however taken, may be (the extent to which the Term Directive and _Painer_ restrict which photos is unclear to me). The real cat is not a "work".

  2. This should be about purrsonality rights, if any.

  3. Ha! Well-played, Hans..

    Francis, good point about copyright being available to Nyen Cat but not Tardar (aka Grumpy). We could argue that the effort to name and promote Grumpy Cat makes her a creative "work" of sorts and therefore deserving of protection. On the other hand, courts may be uneasy with extending IP over living things (think of the debates over patents and the Harvard onco-mouse, Myriad Genetics, etc)

  4. I can see how he has copyright to HIS photographs of his cat.

    But to claim copyright for the image of the breed of cat? Photos or drawings? How will the people who have cat shows be able to take photos of the winning Snowshoe cat without infringing?

    The cat isn't a "work", the entire breed looks like that. Just Google "snowshoe cat".

    I recently saw a great photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. The photographer took a nice shot of a firework going off over it, and had the luck to capture a lightning strike as well. Obviously he owns to the copyright to his photo. Can he claim a copyright on all photos of the Golden Gate Bridge? Or of the combination of the bridge, fireworks and lightning? I seriously doubt it.

    How about if a portrait photographer takes a picture of someone posing with their cat, and it is one of this breed?

    He didn't "create" the cat, nature did. And he didn't even make it famous, the internet users did that, by people playing "caption this photo".

    In my opinion, he is trying to take credit for things he did not do.

    For that matter, Garfield was a GRUMPY CAT long before the term ever got applied to a Snowshoe Cat.

  5. While cats exist, creative works exist in a different context. Human actors also exist; they too play a character or a role in a creative work. The attractive cat actor’s contribution amounts to presenting the narrative – a grumpy narrative. I do not believe the cat creates that grumpy narrative or that work.
    But to the point, surly a trademark applies to various classes of goods and merchandise – the origin of those products is the issue. If the maker of Grumpy Cat wish to avoid their merchandise being confused with that of other producers of Grumpy Cat merchandise then a trademark seems appropriate. Grumpy Cat holding a trademark would not constrain or burden the makers of the knock off goods if they have sufficient talent. There are words and cats enough, they could reasonably be expected to name and create their own work, invest their time and money developing their own new work.
    If the Grumpy Cat trademark is not granted then why should the many makers of knock off Grumpy Cat merchandise do any different to what they presently do? They will see that if they produced their own work they too would likely have their work merchandised by the less imaginative – or more prudent. T.C.

  6. Ueah, but was it every fully trademarked legally? I search but find nothing at the website.


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