The Isley Brothers’ Rudolph Isley Sues Ronald Isley Over Band’s Trademark

Music

Ronald and Rudolph Isley perform at the 2004 BET Awards in Hollywood California.

Ronald and Rudolph Isley perform at the 2004 BET Awards in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The Isley Brothers’ Rudolph Isley Sues Ronald Isley Over Band’s Trademark

Rudolph is seeking a full accounting and 50 percent of profits from the trademark

Rudolph Isley has sued his brother Ronald Isley, claiming he improperly registered the trademark for “The Isley Brothers” as a sole individual, excluding him from an asset in a partnership in which they are equal members, Rolling Stone reports, and documents viewed by Pitchfork confirm. The suit seeks a declaration that the mark “The Isley Brothers” is jointly owned by each brother, and an asset in which they “sole and equal members.” Rudolph Isley also asserts that because he is “unaware of the degree to which Ronald exploited the Mark, the licenses and/or other transactions that Ronald entered into” he seeks a judgement forcing Ronald to account for and pay his 50-percent share of the proceeds he’s collected on the trademark. Check out the full lawsuit below.

Documents obtained from the United States Patent and Trademark Office show that on November 2, 2021, Ronald Isley applied to register exclusive rights to “The Isley Brothers” trademark for “Visual recordings and audiovisual recordings featuring music and animation” as a sole individual. The USPTO registered the trademark on August 16, 2022. 

Rudolph and Ronald Isley co-founded the Isley Brothers with their brother O’Kelly in 1954. Rudolph claims after O’Kelly’s death in 1986, that he and Ronald each held 50 percent share of ownership in the group and “The Isley Brothers” trademark. Both parties agree Rudolph retired from performing and recording with the band in 1989. Rudolph asserts in his suit that he “remained active in promoting and managing the Group’s properties,” citing a 2018 publishing deal and a recent sync of “Shout” in the 2023 Super Bowl commercial this past year. The current lineup of the Isley Brothers includes Ronald and Ernie Isley; they shared a re-work of their 1975 hit “Make Me Say It Again Girl, Pts. 1 & 2” featuring Beyoncé in August, and a year earlier appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to perform “Friends and Family” with Snoop Dogg. In April 2021 Ronald and Ernie squared off against surviving members of Earth, Wind, & Fire in a Steve Harvey-hosted Easter special VERZUZ battle. 

In his suit, Rudolph Isley included a letter as evidence written by Navarro W. Gray, an attorney representing his brother Ronald, in response to a letter sent by Rudolph’s attorney Brian D. Caplan. The letter addresses several claims: That Ronald repaid a $2 million loan from Rudolph with his share of a tax credit for The Isley Brothers, LLC; that Ronald did not “set up a separate entity to receive Isley Brothers related revenue” but to do business solely related to his own career; that “fake sites” not affiliated with Ronald Isley are selling unauthorized merch; and that SoundExchange, the rights management firm charged with distributing the Isley Brothers royalties, has always issued payments in equal share and no corrections to royalty payouts need to be made. 

The letter also directly disputes Rudolph’s claim that he owns 50 percent of the group’s name and trademark, since “There has always been more than two (2) members in the Isley Brother’s [sic] Group.” It cites the Trademark Act §1, 15 U.S.C. §1051, claiming that the owner of the trademark is the person “who is actually and actively using the mark in commerce during or near the time of registration,” and that Rudolph “has not used the mark in approximately 36 years.” 

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