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By Sanjeev Kumar
Founding Attorney

What remedies does a business have against former corporate officers who go into direct competition against it?

When business partners, officers or employees leave the company, ownership of intellectual property can become a source of conflict. Contentious claims to Trademarks, computer source code and numerous other IP assets, often of substantial value to the company, may become the basis of a conflict. In a recent Texas case, the disputed property is the right to breed dogs—specifically descendants of Rin Tin Tin, the canine movie and television star from the 1950s and earlier.

Rin Tin Incorporated has sued several of its former corporate officers for trying to sell dogs from the bloodline of the original Rin Tin Tin. The lawsuit, filed in a Texas federal court, accuses the defendants of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, trademark infringement and dilution, unfair competition and more. Dogs descended from Rin Tin Tin sell for as much as $50,000.

Rin Tin Incorporated’s owner, Daphne Hereford, says she holds the copyrights and trademarks that allow her to use the Rin Tin Tin name. The company uses those trademark registrations to sell not just dogs but clothing, dog accessories, children’s books and other products.

In 2008, Hereford began working with the defendants, professional breeders who had once been involved in the training program for Lassie. She appointed them officers of her company. She also registered them with the American Kennel Club as owners of some of the Rin Tin Tin Dogs. In the current litigation, she maintains that those registrations were not intended to transfer actual ownership of the dogs or conflict with other contracts and policies of her company.

A dispute over finances and the operation of the business ensued, however, and in 2014, Hereford dismissed the defendants from the company. The defendants kept a number of the dogs and refused to return them. They are, Hereford alleges, trying to breed them in violation of written commitments.

According to the complaint, when the defendants took possession of the dogs, they signed documents barring them from breeding the dogs or using them in advertising or promotions. Hereford and Rin Tin Incorporated are seeking damages and a permanent injunction preventing the defendants from using the dogs commercially.

Whether you are formulating a strategy to protect your company’s intellectual property or you are already engaged in litigation, The Kumar Law Firm in Austin, Texas can help. Contact us today at (512)960-3808 to learn how our experienced business attorneys can help protect your interests.

About the Author
Sanjeev Kumar is the founder and principal at the Kumar Law Firm, which provides a wide range of legal services to entrepreneurs and business owners in the area of business & corporate law and intellectual property along with related areas of interest to clients such as business succession planning, wealth preservation through estate planning, and alternate dispute resolution.