Chad Hugo has filed legal papers with the US Trademark Office opposing moves by his musical collaborator Pharrell Williams to register trademarks connected to the name they have long collaborated under, The Neptunes

PW IP Holdings, a company wholly owned by Williams, has been registering trademarks for the name The Neptunes with the Trademark Office since 2020. However, Hugo argues that he owns 50% of the Neptunes brand, and has not been involved in or consulted about the registrations. 

By "ignoring or excluding" Hugo when submitting his registrations, the legal filing insists, Williams "has committed fraud in securing the trademarks and acted in bad faith" towards his collaborator and business partner. 

Suggesting tensions have been building between Hugo and Williams for some time, the filing also says that Hugo's lawyers have "repeatedly contacted" representatives for Williams and his company. And, in the resulting back and forth, Williams' lawyer admitted that Hugo is "equal co-owner of the trademarks”. There was then talk of Williams formally documenting that co-ownership, but, Hugo claims, only if he agreed to "onerous business terms”.

As Hugo's filing notes, he and Williams have been writing and producing music together as The Neptunes since the early 1990s. They have together produced “innumerable chart-topping hits, including, but not limited to, ‘Hollaback Girl’ performed by Gwen Stefani and ‘Milkshake’ by Kelis”. The venture, he explains, has always operated as a 50/50 partnership, with all rights and revenues generated by their work split equally. 

"Throughout their over thirty year history", Hugo’s filing states, he and Williams "agreed to, and in fact, have divided all assets, including intellectual property rights, of their business relationship equally. All publishing rights and publishing agreements were/are divided equally. All advances, fees and royalties were/are divided equally". 

That 50/50 arrangement should also apply to the rights in the name The Neptunes, says Hugo. His filing adds, "Nothing, either written or oral”, gave Williams or his company the “unilateral authority to register the trademarks” solely in the name of PW IP Holdings.

Legally speaking, Hugo says that any The Neptunes trademarks should either be owned 50/50 by him and Williams, or outright by their existing 50/50 business partnership. The US Trademark Office will now review that argument. 

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