Isley Brothers Battle in Court Over Trademark Rights to Band Name
The Isley Brothers are headed to court over the trademark rights to the band’s name.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in Chicago federal court, Rudolph Isley accused his brother Ronald Isley of improperly attempting to secure a federal trademark registration on the “The Isley Brothers” – even though the name is supposed to be jointly owned.
“Counsel for defendant Ronald Isley has asserted in correspondence that defendant alone has exclusive ownership of the [trade]mark,” Rudolph’s lawyers wrote in their complaint. “These assertions … are false.”
The lawsuit claims that Ronald, “acting without the knowledge or approval of Rudolph,” applied in 2021 at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register “The Isley Brothers” as a trademark under his name alone. The agency approved the application and registered the trademark last year.
In filing the case, Rudolph is asking a judge to declare that the trademark rights to the name are “jointly owned by Plaintiff and Defendant equally.” He also wants a ruling that forces Ronald to explain how he has “exploited” the trademark and to share any revenue derived from it.
An attorney for Ronald did not immediately return a request for comment.
Band names are a constant source of trademark disputes, typically among various current and former members who disagree about who has the right to keep using a famous title. Who truly constitutes the band? Is it the members, or an LLC that owns the rights to the name? Is it the original lineup, or the one that produced the biggest hits?
Journey, Stone Temple Pilots, Jefferson Starship, the Rascals, the Ebonys, the Commodores and the Platters have all resorted to such litigation over the years. Members of the Beach Boys spent more than 10 years fighting over their name, before a settlement was reached in 2008. And Morris Day recently had an ugly fight with the Prince estate over the trademark rights to his band name, The Time.
In the case of the Isleys, Rudolph claims that since the 1986 death of their third brother O’Kelly Isley, he and Ronald have been the equal co-owners of the group’s intellectual property. He says that arrangement is formalized in two overlapping holding companies, Isley Brothers Royalty Venture I SPC Inc. and Isley Brothers L.L.C.
“Both plaintiff and defendant are currently 50% owners of all rights and interests of the group, with neither party having the authority to enter into deals concerning the group or the exploitation of the mark without consent of the other party,” Rudolph’s lawyers wrote.
Ronald’s lawyers see things differently. In back-and-forth legal correspondence sent before Monday’s case was filed, his attorneys had argued that the “Isley Brothers” trademarks are the property of those who have actually been using a name – and that Rudolph has not performed with the band since 1986.
“Rudolph has not used the mark in approximately thirty-six (36) years,” Ronald’s lawyer, Navarro W. Gray, wrote to his brother’s attorneys in a January letter. “Thus, Ronald’s profits from the business endeavors he has sought and created for himself, in relation to The Isley Brother’s brand, are not to be shared as he has been the party actually using the mark in commerce.”
Read Rudolph Isley’s entire complaint here: