California Intellectual Property Blog


Grumpy Cat is Getting Her Day in Court

Due to the popular feline’s passing in May 2019, it may surprise some to hear that a Grumpy Cat lawsuit has found its way to federal court today. While Tardar Sauce (the cat’s real name) may no longer be with us, her public image still exists and retains certain rights. Every dog has his day, but this frisky feline appears ready to have her day in court

Grumpy Cat Lawsuit Filed

In an 18-page complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division today October 8, 2020, the owners of Grumpy Cat Limited claim that their intellectual property rights over Grumpy Cat are being infringed upon. Several business entities and individuals residing outside of the U.S. are targeted in the filing. 

The Grumpy Cat lawsuit states that defendants are passing off counterfeit materials, using illegal search engine manipulation, going to great lengths to conceal their identity and other tactics meant to disguise wrongdoing and avoid prosecution. There are several counts mentioned in the filing: 

Although the lawsuit lists parties in “other foreign jurisdictions,” it specifically mentions actors in the People’s Republic of China. Intellectual property theft from China has been an ongoing issue in America, and these activities have been increasing in recent years. 

One of the biggest issues related to this international IP theft is that violators often simply move their operations when legally targeted. This is directly mentioned in the Grumpy cat lawsuit: “Defendants will often register new domain names or online marketplace accounts under new aliases once they receive notice of a lawsuit.” 

Case Background

While many people may think Grumpy Cat was just an internet star, the fact is that Tardar Sauce has a legitimate brand. Several registrations have been granted under multiple trademark classes, and nearly two dozen copyrighted items are listed in the lawsuit. Once the world saw the seemingly ill-tempered feline’s face, the cat’s popularity skyrocketed. 

The Grumpy Cat lawsuit includes evidentiary specimens showing the first trademark registration taking place in October 2013 – a little over a year after the feline’s image was posted to Reddit. Internet searches for the crabby kitty spiked in Dec. 2012, and there’s now hardly a person on earth who wouldn’t recognize the distinctive appearance of Tardar Sauce. 

This isn’t the first time a lawsuit over Grumpy Cat has found its way to federal court. In 2018, the intellectual property owners won over $700,000 in a copyright infringement verdict. The image and name of Tardar Sauce are certainly protected under federal law, but now the question becomes whether the defendants in the lawsuit violated these rights. 

What’s Next?

The plaintiff listed on this filing has sought ex parte relief and asks that sections of their filing remain sealed. This is an attempt to avoid the potential destruction of evidence prior to the issuance of a temporary restraining order. Documents will be unsealed after the complaint is served. 

The filing of the Grumpy Cat lawsuit seeks several forms of relief – including injunctions, lost profits and attorneys’ fees. We’ll have to see how the case plays out, but if Tardar Sauce were still around, there’s no doubt she’d be sporting a frown at having to go back to court. 


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