Battle over Rin Tin Tin name could end up in Calif. court

October 27, 1994|By Houston Chronicle

A Hollywood producer and Daphne Hereford have landed in each other's doghouse.

Ms. Hereford, of the Houston suburb of Pearland, owns a descendant of the 1950s TV star Rin Tin Tin IV. But Herbert B. Leonard produced the series that starred the dog and owns the films of those episodes.

Both claim exclusive rights to the Rin Tin Tin name. It appears the dispute is heading for a long dogfight in a California federal court.

Ms. Hereford lives in a small house packed with memorabilia such as movie posters, statuettes and old tin cans bearing the popular canine star's picture.

"I have here a Rin Tin Tin museum," she said as Bubba, a 4-year-old, 110-pound German shepherd, sat by her side.

Bubba is a seventh-generation descendant of Rin Tin Tin IV, the dog that starred in the 1950s TV series "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin."

Ms. Hereford, 44, runs a dog-breeding business called Rin Tin Tin German Shepherds as well as a Rin Tin Tin fan club, which has about 40 members, mostly German shepherd owners. She considers herself one of the most fervent Rin Tin Tin fans anywhere.

Mr. Leonard is a big fan of the heroic dog, too.

He filed a lawsuit against Ms. Hereford in federal court in April, alleging that he has full rights to the Rin Tin Tin name and that Ms. Hereford is using it without authorization.

To support her argument that Mr. Leonard is wrong, Ms. Hereford reached into a desk drawer and pulled out two documents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, indicating that she's the one who owns the trademark. Ms. Hereford insists she gained full rights to the name on April 6, 1993.

"I own the trademark like I own my dogs," she said.

Ms. Hereford has used the Rin Tin Tin name since 1977. In 1984, she incorporated her business under the name.

Her trademark attorney, David O'Brian of Houston, said he doesn't see why her trademark is even being disputed. The patent office, he said, conducted a records search before issuing it, and he conducted a separate search.

Mr. Leonard's attorney, Peter J. Anderson of Santa Monica, Calif., sees things a little differently.

"The protection comes from usage," he said. "Our client did not register the trademark, but that is not a prerequisite to protection.

"We're all warm-hearted people here who care about dogs," he said. "The only problem we have is her using the Rin Tin Tin name."

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