When Grumpy Cat entered the public consciousness in 2012, she quickly moved from being merely another meme, to being the face of products ranging from pillows and mugs to clothing and bags. The melancholic feline even ‘authored’ a New York Times bestselling book.

Recently Grumpy Cat Limited, the company behind the Grumpy Cat, was awarded six figure damages for copyright and trade mark infringement by the Grenade Beverage company.

The background to the dispute was an agreement previously reached between Grumpy Cat Ltd and Grenade whereby Grenade were authorised to use the Grumpy Cat brand on a product marketed and sold by Grenade. When Grenade subsequently launched Grumpy Cat product lines not covered by the original agreement however, fur was ruffled and court action taken.

Where does the law stand in cases like this, and what can brands do to protect themselves from infringement?

It is always important for licence agreements to clearly set out what permission is being granted for the use of trade marks and copyright. In this case the agreement was apparently very clearly limited to a single product. Indeed, when Grenade asked permission to extend the use to other lines, they were expressly denied permission to do this.

They went ahead anyway and therefore cannot have been too surprised when the law suit followed.

Grenade did try to defend its actions, claiming that Grumpy Cat Ltd had not upheld its part of the agreement, which was to promote Grenade’s products. This included promises allegedly made that Grumpy Cat would be making waves in Hollywood that have thus far not materialised.

If Grenade had a genuine grievance about failure to uphold the agreement however, they should have sought recompense in the courts. Instead they exploited Grumpy Cat Ltd’s intellectual property (IP) without permission. In cases such as this, much will rely on the original agreement signed between Grumpy Cat Ltd and Grenade. Where licence agreements are in place it is useful to include a process for managing disagreements without the need to go to court.

In this case Grenade Beverages should certainly have given “paws” for thought before using Grumpy Cat’s trade mark and copyright beyond the scope of the original agreement. Grumpy Cat’s intellectual property rights were clear. Whether or not the six figure settlement will bring a smile to the miserable moggy’s face is less so.