Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo Enter Legal Fight Over Neptunes Trademark

April 1, 2024

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Chad Hugo accused his longtime friend and production partner Pharrell Williams of “fraudulently” trying to gain sole control over the trademarks tied to their production and songwriting work as the Neptunes.

As Billboard reports, Hugo’s lawyer filed a legal action in a federal tribunal last week accusing Pharrell and his company, PW IP Holdings LLC, of trying to register three separate trademarks for the Neptunes without involving Hugo — an alleged violation of the duo’s longstanding agreement to share everything equally. 

“Throughout their over thirty year history, [Hugo] and Williams agreed to, and in fact, have divided all assets,” the filing stated. “By ignoring and excluding [Hugo] from the any and all applications filed by applicant for the mark ‘The Neptunes,’ applicant has committed fraud in securing the trademarks and acted in bad faith.”

The trademark applications Williams and his company filed pertained to the use of the Neptunes name for streaming music, music videos, and other content, as well as live performances. While the legal action was just brought last week, the applications were first issued in 2022. 

Hugo’s attorneys argued that Williams “knowingly and intentionally” filed the trademark applications without consulting Hugo, adding: “Nothing, either written or oral, provided Williams or [PW IP Holdings] with the unilateral authority to register the trademarks.” 

A rep for Williams pushed back on this characterization in a statement, though, claiming: “Pharrell is surprised by this. We have reached out on multiple occasions to share in the ownership and administration of the trademark and will continue to make that offer. The goal here was to make sure a third party doesn’t get a hold of the trademark and to guarantee Chad and Pharrell share in ownership and administration.” (A lawyer for Hugo did not return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.)

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Hugo’s filing does acknowledge that his legal team “repeatedly” reached out to Williams about the issue, and that Williams’ lawyers “admitted that [Hugo] is equal co-owner of the trademarks” and would include him in the application. But the filing argues that Williams’ company subsequently demanded “onerous business terms” that would not have been fair to Hugo (no details about those terms, however, were given). 

As the Neptunes, Hugo and Williams produced and wrote some of the biggest, most indelible hits of the 2000s. Though not as prolific as they were in their heyday, the Neptunes still produce music for others fairly regularly. Interestingly, their most recent credits came in 2022, the same year Williams and his company allegedly filed the trademark applications without consulting Hugo. That year, they worked on music for Rosalía, Omar Apollo, and Brent Faiyaz; they were also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame

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