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Nothing to Smile About: The Grumpy Cat LawsuitWhen a sourpussed cat is in the courtroom, things are bound to get interesting.

Grumpy Cat who’s real name is actually Tardar Sauce is the lovable and actually not so grumpy feline who inspired a million memes in 2012 and beyond. He was recently involved in a commercial lawsuit that resulted in a $710,000 settlement to her owner, Tabatha Bundesen. According to the plaintiff, Grenade beverage company exploited the name and likeness of the famed feline in product lines that included beverages and T-shirts. The plaintiff alleged she had never agreed to let her beloved kitty be used for the products.

How It All Started

In 2013, Grenade owners Nick and Paul Sandford created an agreement with Bundesen’s Grumpy Cat Limited, her company promoting her cat, to sell a line of Grumpy Cat Grumppuccino iced coffees. Two years later, Grenade started selling a line of Grumpy Cat Roasted Coffee, which was not part of the deal. Grumpy Cat Limited sued, seeking damages for copyright infringement, infringement and dilution of trademark, and domain name exploitation.

Perhaps one of the most grin-inducing commercial litigation complaints to be read, the complaint states, “Ironically, while the world-famous feline Grumpy Cat and her valuable brand are most often invoked in a tongue-and-cheek fashion, Defendants’ despicable misconduct here has actually given Grumpy Cat and her owners something to be grumpy about.” The lawsuit also sought royalties for profits made off the cat’s likeness.

Nothing to Smile About: The Grumpy Cat LawsuitThe Battle Wages On

Since entering litigation, Grumpy Cat Limited and Grenade engaged in a more-than-2-year court battle. Grenade countersued Grumpy Cat Limited, claiming Grumpy Cat Limited did not promote the iced coffee promotion enough. The countersuit sought $12 million in damages based on potential lost revenue.

Grumpy Cat’s posting about the coffee 17 times on social media was not enough for Grenade. The Grenade owners also claimed that a social media posting of the iced coffee by Bundensen’s brother before the coffee made it to market deflated product launch potential. The countersuit also states that on an appearance with Fox News, Tardar’s handlers were supposed to say, “Watch out, Starbucks. The cat’s coming for it,” but never did.

The countersuit also claimed that during the iced coffee negotiations, Grumpy Cat Limited said that Tardar would be starring in a movie with actors Jack Black and Will Ferrell. Tardar and company never made said movie. Grumpy Cat Limited’s legal team alleged the Grenade owners knew that Grumpy Cat was linked to a movie producer who was involved in another movie with the two comedians – not that Grumpy Cat would star in a movie with them.

The case made it to trial, which raged on for a week and triggered an in-person appearance by Grumpy Cat, whose real name is Tardar Sauce. Upon the eight-person jury’s verdict, Grumpy Cat Limited’s attorney David Jonelis said, “Grumpy Cat feels vindicated.”

Nothing to Smile About: The Grumpy Cat LawsuitWhat Can Be Learned from the Grumpy Cat Trial?

As Birmingham commercial litigation attorneys, the Pittman, Dutton & Hellums team often deals with similar breach of contract issues — though usually not with a client as cute as Grumpy Cat. As can be seen from the substantial settlement offer, the Grumpy Cat trial was no laughing matter. Here are some key takeaways:

Make sure any commercial contract you enter is extremely detailed for your protection. Both sides in the Grumpy Cat case sued each other for various reasons. Whenever a contract is negotiated, various scenarios should be covered to avoid future potential litigation. Working with an attorney helps protect you in many situations, both in the case you need to pursue legal action against a partner or need to protect yourself.

Keep all business records. Emails and text messages can be powerful evidence in a commercial litigation case. If you are suspicious about the dealings with a partner, retain all communications and seek to get confirmations in writing that protect you.

Do not sign anything you are uncomfortable with. When your business or an entity you work with is your livelihood, strive to only form legal partnerships with companies you are comfortable with. Negotiate terms so that you are completely satisfied with what you are getting. Anytime your business has to face litigation, you are putting your reputation at risk with current clients and with potential new customers. Think Grumpy Cat’s ardent millions of followers will check out other products from Grenade since Grumpy Cat Limited sued them? Chances are good they’ll get their coffee elsewhere.

If you feel that your business has been harmed by negligent practices or has been exploited by an offending company, you may have a commercial lawsuit worth pursuing. Contact us for a free commercial litigation consultation.