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Say it ain’t so!

Billboard reported that prolific songwriting/production duo The Neptunes is in a major legal battle – with Chad Hugo suing longtime friend and partner Pharrell Williams over the rights to their name.

In a legal action filed last week, Hugo’s attorneys have accused Williams and his company of attempting to register trademarks for the Neptunes moniker. Williams’ company, PW IP Holdings LLC (which already owns trademarks for their band, N.E.R.D.), filed three separate applications in 2022 to register “The Neptunes” as a trademark – one for streaming, another for music videos and other content, and a third for live performances.

Hugo’s attorneys believe that the trademark filings violates their longstanding agreement to split everything equally.

“Throughout their over thirty year history, [Hugo] and Williams agreed to, and in fact, have divided all assets,” wrote Hugo’s attorney Kenneth D. Freundlich, a prominent music industry litigator. “By ignoring and excluding [Hugo] from the any and all applications filed by applicant for the mark ‘The Neptunes,’ applicant has committed fraud in securing the trademarks and acted in bad faith.”

Hugo’s legal team argued that Williams “knowingly and intentionally” filed without Hugo’s input. Because Williams was allegedly “fully aware” that either Hugo or their partnership entity should be a co-owner of the name, the documents state, “Nothing, either written or oral, provided Williams or [PW IP Holdings] with the unilateral authority to register the trademarks.”

In a statement to Billboard, Williams’ rep claims that there was no ill-intent behind the filings.

Pharrell is surprised by this. We have reached out on multiple occasions to share in the ownership and administration of the trademark and will continue to make that offer. The goal here was to make sure a third party doesn’t get a hold of the trademark and to guarantee Chad and Pharrell share in ownership and administration.

Hugo and his team said they’ve contacted Williams and his team about the issue, and Williams had “admitted that [Hugo] is equal co-owner of the trademarks” and promised to include him.” This claim aligns with Williams’ statement to Billboard.

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However, the docs claimed that sharing never actually happened because Williams’ company insisted on “onerous business terms” that wouldn’t give Hugo proper compensation of control.

Not only could Hugo’s case affect the recent trademark filings, but it could also retroactively affect Williams’ approved trademark application for musical sound recordings, as well as another pending application for clothing and other merch. Hugo’s attorneys said that those trademarks would be subject to future legal action aimed to void them.


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