Search Our Website:
Bassam N. Ibrahim, a shareholder in the Intellectual Property Section of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney's Alexandria office, was quoted in a January 22, 2010, article, titled "Tragedy and Triumph: Conan Characters Caught in Contract Drama," published by The Am Law Daily. Portions of the article, including Ibrahim's quotes, were posted on January 25 to the Law Blog section of the Wall Street Journal's website in a posting titled, "Conan Walks Away With $32.5 Million, but There's No Triumph."

According to The Am Law Daily article, "NBC Universal and Conan O'Brien finally reached a deal that will allow the talk show host to depart The Tonight Show. But, as has been widely reported, the late night comic will relinquish the intellectual property rights to several characters created during his 17 years at the network. … NBC Universal has stated that it will retain the rights to many of O'Brien's characters, including Triumph [the Insult Comic Dog]."

Ibrahim weighed in saying, "It's not a good deal for NBC because those characters are so tied to Conan, they really don't fit with anybody else. The only goal [NBC] can hope to achieve is to somehow hinder Conan's ability to compete with [Jay] Leno at another station. They don't want Conan to go to another network with the identical show that NBC has paid for, so they want him to create a new show."

The article went on to report that Ibrahim said the IP portion of O'Brien's severance package with NBC surprised him.

"There's usually a decision on the front end over who's going to own IP assets," he said. "It's usually part of the initial agreement. Take [David] Letterman. He owns all of the rights to the skits, the names of characters, and the overall format of his show, so if he ever leaves he can recreate that show at a competitor."

According to the article, Letterman's ownership rights are structured through his production company, Worldwide Pants Incorporated. Ibrahim said that it appears that O'Brien's production company, Conaco, did not have a similar agreement with NBC.

"This time around, O'Brien will be able to take a page from Letterman's book almost two decades ago, when his Late Night predecessor subtly tweaked certain characters he was contractually obligated to leave behind," explained the article.

"Conan will tweak his characters so they are clearly distinguishable, although the underlying concept is the same, because NBC can't prevent him from going out and making a living by creating competing characters," Ibrahim said. "They can only prevent him from using substantially identical characters, which he can get around by creating new names."

Ibrahim went on to say that any court will give the comedian wide latitude because of First Amendment rights to expression.

"At the end of the day it's going to have little to no affect on Conan's success in the marketplace," said Ibrahim, who admitted to being a fan of O'Brien's. "He'll be able to go to a competitor and create a new show with new characters. And that's what he's going to do — take his money and run."