The human owner behind the frumpy feline face that became an internet smash is aiming to reap the spoils of fame by filing for trademarks on products based around her petulant pet: the one and only Grumpy Cat. For around six months, pictures of the cyberspace sourpuss have been shared countless times on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter – but now the cat’s proud proprietor Tabatha Bundesen has decided that the time has come for a second life (of a mythical nine) in the world of intellectual property (IP).
Grumpy Cat is a classic example of a rapidly spreading internet ‘meme’ – a term coined by scientist Richard Dawkins to describe cultural teachings that spread through human communities. While conventional memes of the type that Dawkins recognises consist of useful information, such as skills for using tools, internet memes are almost exclusively played for laughs.
According to web-based research institute Know Your Meme, Grumpy Cat sprang from a decision by Bundesen’s brother to upload pictures of the uniquely morose moggy – real name Tardar Sauce – to content platform Reddit and photo-sharing network Imgur. Within moments of Tardar’s debut on Reddit, users had voted her to the site’s front page. On Imgur, meanwhile, she notched up more than one million views in the first 48 hours. Before long, edited versions of the catatonic cat had trickled on to Facebook – some of which appeared in comic-strip style, allowing her to joust with heavyweight gloom icons such as Darth Vader.
Tardar’s first brush with IP came when Bundesen and her brother opened a website under domain name www.grumpycats.com, as a forum for further pictures of the unlikely superstar. On the site, they explained that, contrary to Tardar’s image, ‘99% of the time she is a normal kitty. She plays, hides and acts as cats act.’ They also said that they had begun to attract ‘licensed partners’ to manage Tardar’s ongoing popularity. Bundesen’s move to file for Grumpy Cat trademarks at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) – via applications 85836805 and 85837936 – echoes actor Charlie Sheen’s decision in 2011 to apply for marks on a series of bizarre catchphrases that he coined: statements that also quickly became agenda-setting internet memes.
Bundesen has set up the company Grumpy Cat Incorporated to manage Tardar’s business affairs, and hired showbiz attorney Kia Kamran to handle the IP work. While one of the applications covers products such as software, mobile phone covers, t-shirts and hoodies, the other deals with action figures and stuffed toys. Speaking to internet journal Paid Content, Kamran promised that, even though his human and feline clients were keen to acquire IP protection, they would ‘try to be cool’ about fan-generated tributes, and honour the meme’s grassroots origins.
Smash-hit internet ‘meme’ gets claws into brand protection issues, following six-month reign of misery over social networks