The Hobbit: An Unexpected Licence Agreement

December 3rd, 2012

Moviegoers this Christmas season may be excited to see the new Hobbit movie, but few of them may know about a legal battle which raged on in Great Britain over the naming rights of a pub.

From a search conducted of the USPTO on today’s date, 110 active registrations or applications existed referencing the word HOBBIT.  Most of them are owned by The Saul Zaentz Company, which acquired certain rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s works back in 1976.  As a result of the making of the recent film, The Hobbit, Zaentz applied for several of these trade-marks, covering a cornucopia of merchandise, from ashtrays to wine.  Zaentz then attempted to enforce its newly registered trade-mark rights across the UK, including against the Hobbit pub.

The Hobbit pub, located in Southampton, Hants, UK, had been in business for over 20 years, decorated in “middle earth” styles, adorned with similar artwork, and serving Tolkien-themed drinks (see here for more info).  Over this past year, Zaentz demanded that the pub cease and desist all use of Tolkien-related names and artwork.  However, popular opinions and a media campaign championed by actors Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellen saved the pub and, according to some sources, the pub and Zaentz agreed to a $100 licence fee.

A licence agreement was likely a better choice for all parties.  A licence allows the pub to continue use of the names and themes, which in turn promotes the films, books, and merchandising (Tolkienesque merchandise is also available for sale in the pub…no doubt part of the agreement).  A licence is also a further benefit to Zaentz since it prevents “dilution” of the trade-marks through unauthorized use.  If unauthorized use of a trade-mark is allowed to continue, it dilutes the strength of your trade-mark and weakens its scope of protection.

To find out more or how to licence the use of your trade-marks, contact me today.



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