It seems as though the ‘birds’ are not the only thing ‘angry’ right now as the Seattle artist, Juli Adams, creator of the ‘Angry Bird’ pet toys for Hartz Mountain Corporation claims that the company illegally sold the artist’s trademarked design pet toys to video company Rovio Entertainment Ltd, and thusly robbing her of millions of dollars in royalty fees.
Long before there were millions of game players flinging those adorable ‘Angry Birds’ in video games, blowing up, knocking down and collecting you points, they were once a harmless pet toy for cats. Juli Adams went to Evergreen College in Washington to study art, grew up making a living as a painter, and sold her works at art fairs. She began early in her career to display her art at as many as fifteen art fairs a year – it was there that Hartz discovered Adams and her work. Hartz Mountain, one of the nation’s largest producers of pet toys, had asked Adams to create a pet toy line.
Based on inspiration from her own two cats, she designed the line of toys called, Angry Birds. She came up with the name after her cats would play with the prototypes and kind of ‘ruffle their feathers,’ making them look both ‘distraught’ and ‘angry.’ In 2006, Hartz entered into an exclusive agreement with Adams, which stated there would be “no transfer of ownership” of the Angry Birds intellectual property from Adams to Hartz. Adams claims that the agreement gave Hartz only limited licensing rights between the two of them and not the right to license that intellectual property to a third party (Rovio) for profit.
Hartz used Adam’s intellectual property to leverage a deal with Rovio, who launched the popular Angry Birds video game in December 2009…Hartz did this without Adams’ knowledge or permission. Not only that, but then Hartz dumped her while still issuing pet toys under the same Angry Bird name and then told her that she could no longer use the name “Angry Birds” due to issues of conflict.
Since the success of the game, Rovio has sought and received trademark licensing for children’s toys, clothing lines and cellphone accessories – but their agreement specifically states that there will be no pet toys because that trademark was already registered by Hartz while Adams still was associated with them. The suit states that Adams’ last royalty check was from Hartz in 2011 for $40.46…no wonder Juli Adams is an ‘angry bird.’
It will be very interesting to see what the courts decide in this matter – usually when you are working for a company, anything your create while you are there becomes the company’s, however, if the agreement was that Adams would retain the intellectual property rights, then she should soon be receiving a huge royalty check from somebody. What started out as an innocent toy for a cat has turned into one of the hottest video games in history, although Angry Birds has lost a little of its luster of late with the likes of Candy Crush and the once popular Flappy Bird. That little Hartz Mountain cat toy has spawned numerous Angry Bird game renditions, clothing lines, game boards, cartoons, even a full length feature film that is due out in 2016 and now a lawsuit…its amazing what can happen when you rufle somebody’s feathers.