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Judge Cancels Nine Rin Tin Tin Trademarks

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A Texas dog breeder fraudulently obtained trademarks for Rin Tin Tin, a federal judge ruled, and canceled nine of them.

The breeder, Daphne Hereford, has been snarled in numerous cases over TV and movie rights to Rin Tin Tin. The case at issue involves dog treats.

Hereford claimed that in 1957 original Rin Tin Tin owner Lee Duncan gave her grandmother, Jannettia Brodsgaard, one of Rin Tin Tin's puppies. Duncan gave her his blessing to breed the dogs "to carry on the bloodline of Rin Tin Tin for future generations," Hereford has claimed in court filings.

In 2013, retired stuntman Max Kleven claimed exclusive intellectual property rights for Rin Tin Tin. He filed a $5 million lawsuit against Hereford, claiming that her unlawful trademarks prevented him from making a new Rin Tin Tin movie.

Kleven accused Hereford of "hijacking" the Rin Tin Tin mark, and assigning the rights to sell dog treats to Belleair Trading International - the only remaining defendant in the case - after the court entered default judgment against Hereford.

In late 2013, Bellaire's Rin Tin Tin dog treats were being sold in 200 stores in nine states, according to court records.

U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte issued findings of fact and conclusions of law on Aug. 21 this year, after a one-day trial in December. He found that Hereford obtained the marks fraudulently.

In a 1996 court settlement, Hereford gave up claims to trademark and merchandising rights in Rin Tin Tin. But despite that, and a 2006 agreement involving Kleven, Hereford claimed marks to which she was not entitled, Birotte ruled.

Hereford had admitted in court that she held neither common law trademark rights to Rin Tin Tin, nor residual rights in the Rin Tin Tin trademark and character, Birotte ruled.

Furthermore, though her puppies came from a dog that sometimes appeared in the 1950's television series "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin," they were not descended from the original Rin Tin Tin, Birotte said.

"Hereford only had a narrow right to breed, advertise, and sell German shepherd puppies as linear descendants of Rin Tin Tin IV (which was not a descendant of the original Rin Tin Tin)," the judge wrote.

But she applied for and was granted Rin Tin Tin trademarks for Rin Tin Tin promotions, a fan club, Rin Tin Tin print publications, dog toys and dog food.

"In each registration application, Hereford provided a sworn declaration that she believed she was the owner of and entitled to use the Rin Tin Tin trademarks, that no one else had a right to use the marks in commerce, and that Hereford's uses of the marks were not likely to cause confusion," Birotte wrote in his 55-page ruling.

He canceled the trademarks, rejecting Belleair's defense that Kleven's claims are untimely or that the company was prejudiced by his delay in filing suit.

"While Belleair has invested in the Rin Tin Tin mark - paying Hereford to purchase her registrations and investing in a business formed around the mark - Belleair was on notice of the title defects in Hereford's registration, Belleair purchased the registrations on an 'as is' basis, Hereford made no warranties whatsoever with respect to the registrations and disclaimed any liability with regard to future possession or use of the registrations, and, most importantly, Belleair purchased most of the registrations after Belleair had been served with the summons and complaint and appeared in this action," Birotte wrote.

He judge found that Hereford had abandoned one trademark and fraudulently obtained eight others.

Army Lt. Lee Duncan found the original Rin Tin Tin in a litter of puppies in France while serving during World War I. He brought her home and wrote the first Rin Tin Tin movie, "Where North Begins," a 1923 silent film so popular that some have credited it with saving Warner Bros. Rin Tin Tin and her descendants have starred in at least 27 movies, a 1950s TV show, and a best-selling nonfiction 2012 book by Susan Orlean. A museum is devoted to the dog in Texas. Hereford has claimed in a court that a dog in the Rin Tin Tin bloodline can bring as much as $50,000.

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