A Long Island costume company has filed a pre-emptive federal lawsuit against Hebrew University of Jerusalem in a trademark dispute over its Albert Einstein disguise kit.
The Einstein disguise kit includes a curly white wig and white mustache, mostly sold for children to wear in historically-based school plays. The disguise retails for $12 on Amazon.com under Forum’s Heroes in History Instant Disguise Kit label.
Forum Designs Inc., of Walt Whitman Road in Melville, filed suit in December in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In the suit, Forum says it took action because Hebrew University had threatened to sue if the company didn't stop selling the Einstein kit. The university is the sole heir of Einstein's estate.
The lawsuit also names GreenLight LLC, a U.S. company that handles Einstein licensing for Hebrew University and which is also named in Forum’s suit. GreenLight manages such licenses as Disney’s Baby Einstein products.
"Albert Einstein did not actively commercialize nor exploit his celebrity during his lifetime," Forum says in the suit.
Hebrew University Jerusalem "thus does not have a right of publicity to assert. HUJ cannot 'inherit' rights from Albert Einstein which did not exist at the time of his death."
The suit says that because Einstein lived in New Jersey at the time of his death, that state's law governs trademark disputes. And New Jersey law doesn't allow heirs to assert trademark rights that a decedent did not exercise while alive, the suit says.
Moreover, "the Instant Disguise Kit does not use the words or name Albert Einstein in a trademark use but, rather, in a purely historical and thus fair use manner to refer to Albert Einstein, the individual."
GreenLight issued a statement Thursday saying it “is required to ensure that any third party uses of Einstein’s image, likeness and trademarks are approved by and authorized his estate. Forum Novelties did not request or receive approval for its use of Einstein’s likeness.”
Forum also sells Amelia Earhart, Betsy Ross, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt disguise kits. And it makes full-face masks in the likenesses of President Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.
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