Actor Stephen Fry has confirmed that he and Sir Ian McKellen will pay a licence fee so that a Southampton pub in England can continue to use the name they’ve traded under for twenty years—The Hobbit.
The pub was threatened with legal action by Saul Zaentz Company (SZC) of Hollywood, which accused it of infringement. SZC owns the worldwide rights to several brands associated with author JRR Tolkien, including The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings. Although half this article talks in terms of “copyrights,” I feel certain it is really talking about trademark infringement.
In an effort to get SZC to back off, the pub’s supporters set up a Facebook page, which has more than 57,000 supporters. Sir Ian, who plays Gandalf in the Lord Of The Rings films, described the film company’s actions as “unnecessary pettiness” and Fry said it was “self-defeating bullying”. The actors began tweeting about the situation and Fry ultimately offered to pay a licensing fee so that the Hobbit could continue to operate under that name.
This case is another interesting example of the little guy using the power of social media to make a trademark “bully” back down. However, as an IP lawyer, I am sympathetic to the mark owner’s plight–you either defend your mark or you lose it. However, unless the SZC folks had used the mark on a pub, I’m not sure that any confusion would be likely. At any rate, you will still be able to knock down a cold Frodo at The Hobbit after a long day in Southhampton, and that’s a good thing in anybody’s book.