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Isley Brothers Spar Over Trademark Ownership in New Lawsuit

Rudolph Isley, one of the founding members of the Isley Brothers, is suing his brother and former bandmate Ronald for allegedly trying to secure a trademark for “The Isley Brothers” exclusively under his name.

The lawsuit, which was filed Monday, March 20 and obtained by Rolling Stone, is seeking a judicial declaration that “The Isley Brothers” mark is “jointly owned” by the brothers. Rudolph also claims he’s “unaware of the degree to which Ronald exploited the Mark” and wants the judge to order Ronald to “account for and pay” the 50 percent share Rudolph says he’s owed for any proceeds derived from the trademark. 

Lawyers for both Rudolph and Ronald did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s requests for comment.

Rudolph and Ronald co-founded the Isley Brothers with their late brother, O’Kelly, in 1954. Rudolph’s suit claims that “at all times” the band operated as a “common-law partnership,” sharing expenses, profits, and control of the band’s business. Even as the band’s lineup grew and expanded, the lawsuit claims, the group “remained an equal partnership under the sole ownership, direction and control of its founding members.”

After O’Kelly’s death in 1986, Rudolph says he and Ronald were left with a 50 percent share of ownership in the band and “The Isley Brothers Trademark.” Rudolph stepped back from the band himself in 1989, but “remained active in promoting and managing the Group’s properties,” such as a 2018 publishing deal and a recent licensing deal involving the use of “Shout” in a Super Bowl commercial this past year. The lawsuit states that the two brothers are still equal owners “of all rights and interests of the Group” and neither party has “the authority to enter into deals… without the consent of the other.”

However, Rudolph claims that on Nov. 2, 2021, Ronald struck out on his own and “filed an application to register exclusive rights” to “The Isley Brothers” mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for goods and services related to “visual recordings and audiovisual recordings featuring music and animation.” The Trademark Office approved the application on Aug. 16, 2022. 

Rudolph’s suit alleges that, on the trademark application and registration, Ronald “claims sole exclusive rights in and to the Mark in his individual capacity.” The suit says Ronald’s attorney also claimed this in a letter to Rudolph’s counsel. “These assertions in correspondence to [Rudolph], and under penalty of perjury to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, are false,” Rudolph’s suit reads. 


Included in Rudolph’s filing is a copy of the aforementioned letter Ronald’s attorney, Navarro Gray, sent Rudolph’s counsel. In the letter, Gray insists that Ronald “did not set up a separate entity to receive Isley Brothers related revenue,” but rather “his own corporate entity to do business solely related to his own musical/entertainment career.” 

The letter also asserts that Ronald has more claim to “The Isley Brothers” mark because he’s the one who is “actually and actively using the mark in commerce during or near the time of registration.” The letter goes on to state, “Our research shows that Rudolph Isley has not used the mark or been part of The Isley Brothers brand since 1986 and not performed with The Isley Brothers since the death of their brother Okelly [sic] Isley.” 

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