In 2006, Juli Adams was a struggling artist working the art show circuit in the Pacific Northwest when pet products company Hartz approached her with a deal to create plush toys for cats.
Adams dubbed the toy line “Angry Birds,” inspired in part by her own cats. She entered into a 5-year confidential licensing agreement with Secaucus, New Jersey-based Hartz, one of which noted that there was to be no “transfer of ownership” of the Angry Birds intellectual property to Hartz.
In December 2009, Rovio introduced the Angry Birds mobile game, taking the world by storm. And a short period later Hartz entered into an exclusive deal with Rovio to use the Angry Birds trademark for a line of pet toys.
Now, that deal is the source of a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Western Washington, one which alleges that Hartz “unfairly and deceptively garnered millions of dollars in profits” from the artistic work of Adams. The Seattle artist has hired the high-powered law firm of Hagens Berman to make her case.
“When I was first approached, Hartz wanted me to have complete artistic freedom,” Adams said in a press release. “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.”
The complaint alleges that Hartz did not take into consideration the previous agreement with Adams, essentially hijacking her artistic work. We’ve reached out to Hartz for comment, and we’ll update this post as we hear more.
Adams’ last royalty payment from Hartz arrived in 2011 in the amount of $40.66, according to the suit.
“Based on the international success of the Angry Birds video games, we believe that Hartz has made tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars from sales of the Angry Birds pet toys,” said Anthony Shapiro, a partner at Hagens Berman.
While Rovio is not listed as a defendant, the game company draws the ire of the plaintiff who notes in the complaint that Rovio failed to “perform even minimal due diligence” on the source of the Angry Birds’ trademark as it related to pet toys.
Hartz later dumped Adams, and told her that she could no longer use the Angry Birds name. Full suit below: