The mobile app Angry Birds ranks as one of the most popular portable games of all time. Created by the Finnish game developers, Rovio Entertainment, it has been downloaded hundreds of millions of times and has inspired multiple iterations (including Star Wars and Transformers versions). For many, it’s a great way to pass the time if you’re stuck waiting in line or are a passenger on a road trip. The game has turned into a cash cow for its developers––you can find t-shirts, toys, and countless other merchandise with the brand on it. But for one woman, Angry Birds represents a misappropriation of her intellectual property (IP) and she is seeking to slingshot the matter into a courtroom.

Juli Adams, a Seattle artist, is suing The Hartz Mountain Corporation, claiming the company owes her royalties for using her designs in its licensing agreement with Rovio. Hartz currently makes a line of cat and dog toys based upon the game and its familiar bird and pig characters. In November 2006, Hartz entered into an agreement with Adams for her to create toys for them after representatives from the company discovered her work at an art fair in Montana. The original exclusive licensing agreement was for a term of five years. Hartz wanted her to have “complete artistic freedom,” and Adams presented her idea for toys that “knew they were going to be dragged around and were upset about it.” She had named her toys the “Angry Birds,” and in March 2007, Hartz filed a trademark on that name for use in selling pet toys.

According to Adams, the agreement with Hartz stipulated there would be no transfer of ownership of the Angry Birds property to the company. The suit also contends that Hartz only possessed limited licensing rights that did not include the ability to license to third parties, and never consulted with Adams before licensing the rights to Rovio in 2011. Upon entering into the licencing agreement with Rovio, Adams’ toys were switched to toys resembling characters from the game, and Adams stopped receiving royalty checks. She was also told by the company that she could no longer use the name “Angry Birds” due to a conflict. In her suit, Adams is seeking royalties as well as the return of her rights to–what she claims–is her intellectual property.

Ms. Adams’ case proves the need for any entrepreneur and small business owner to make sure they have proper legal advice when signing any sort of licensing agreement. Even though she thought she had an agreement that allowed her to maintain the rights to her intellectual property, a subsequent agreement allowed Hartz to capitalize on her ideas to make a considerable profit. And while it remains to be seen how the court will rule on her trademark suit against Hartz, a stronger agreement to start the venture would undoubtedly have saved her considerable headaches.

The first step to protecting your intellectual property is identifying it. Do you know what IP you have?

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