Intellectual Property Rights in the Grinch®

In the holiday spirit, we can’t resist analyzing the intellectual property rights in the Grinch. How did a grouchy green cave-dweller become a multimillion dollar IP asset? 

Copyright

The original book How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was written in 1957 by Theodor S. Geisel under the pseudonym Dr. Seuss. The copyright in the character and the related trade-marks is owned by Dr. Seuss Enterprises L.P., a California limited partnership created after the author’s death to handle licensing of the Dr. Seuss empire. The copyright in the original book is owned by the publisher, Random House Inc. 

An animated television special was created in 1966 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., now part of the Time Warner empire; the copyright in the television production is now owned by Turner Entertainment Co.  The copyright in the music in the television production (based on the book) was originally owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. as employer for hire of Theodor S. Geisel and Albert Hague. RCA Records published a compilation of songs from the television production

In 2000, the movie rights were acquired by Universal and the copyright in the movie “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”, directed by Ron Howard, is owned by Luni Productions, a Universal production company. A novelization of the movie (based on the original book) was written by Louise Gikow and copyright is owned by Universal Studios Licensing Inc.

Inevitably, someone decided that the story was fit for a musical production: “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” opened in San Diego in 1998 and moved this year to Broadway.  The copyright in the musical (lyrics and music) is owned by Timothy Mason and Mel Marvin.

All under license of course.

Trade-marks 

The word GRINCH is a registered trade-mark of Dr. Seuss Enterprises L.P. in Canada.Grinch  In the US, the GRINCH trademark was registered by Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP in 2000 for T-shirts, shirts, tops, sweaters, hats, headwear, aprons, sweatshirts and any other merchandising category you could think of. Interestingly, an individual by the name of John Christopher Chlebowski, Jr. obtained the first trademark registration for the word GRINCH, claiming a date of first use in 1991 for “entertainment, namely, live performances by a musical band.”

Domain Names

The domain name grinched.com  is owned by Universal Studios for use with its movie-related website, under license from Dr. Seuss Enterprises.  The domain name howthegrinchstolechristmas.com is registered by an unknown registrant and currently resolves to a “domain for sale” site (which would make a good case for “bad faith” registration under the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy arbitration procedure).

Patents

The Grinch is mentioned in several U.S. patent applications, although no-one has yet found a way to make the character himself the subject of a patent.  For example, United States Patent No. 6,982,780 (filed by inventors Steven Morley, et al.) which issued on January 3, 2006, claims patent rights in a method for creating a playlist for a digital cinema system.  The work “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is mentioned in the claims description as an example of the use of the invention.

Licensing

Dr. Seuss Enterprises L.P. with Audrey Geisel at the helm, appears to control all trade-mark and copyright licensing of the original Grinch character and related paraphernalia as well as the entire Dr. Seuss line of products, and has licensing deals for countless spin-off products.  The movie licensing is handled by Universal Studios Licensing, Inc., which is itself originally under license from Dr. Seuss Enterprises L.P.   Although Dr. Seuss died in 1991, he has consistently made the Forbes list of top-earning deceased celebrities due to the marketing engine of Dr. Seuss Enterprises L.P. It generated $10 million last year.  For the movie version of the Grinch, the licensing company took 4 percent of the box-office gross, 50 percent of the merchandising revenue and music-related material, and 70 percent of the income from book tie-ins.  We haven’t even touched on the licensing for Universal’s theme-park.

Infringement

Alas, we have uncovered no Grinch lawsuits, although few literary characters would be more suitable as a plaintiff.  It seems to us that Mr. Chlebowski, armed with a trademark registration for the word GRINCH in association with “entertainment, namely, live performances by a musical band” would have a claim against the producers of the live musical version of the Grinch story, but we have seen no effort on the part of Mr. Chlebowski to pursue that action. Perhaps the prospect of shutting down a family Broadway musical during the Christmas season is a bit too unpalatable, even for a GRINCH trademark owner.

Calgary – 23:11 MST

1 comment

1 Comment so far

  1. zdrowe odchudzanie September 20th, 2009 6:43 am

    Interesting read, your blog is awesome, bookmarked

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