NEW ORLEANS - The fight over who owns the phrase "Who Dat" continues. Now, the company that sued the NFL and multiple local t-shirt shops in 2010 is turning its focus to a fan merchandise store in Slidell.
Who Dat, Inc. says it owns all rights to the popular phrase when it's printed on items like clothing and furniture.
In December, the company filed a federal civil suit against Ronnie Dunaway and his store, the Who Dat Shoppe! of Slidell, for trademark infringement.
The suit claims Who Dat, Inc. was the first to use the phrase commercially, and has extensively advertised it since.
It says the company’s income comes largely from royalty payments or licensing fees from others selling merchandise with the popular term.
But Dunaway is fighting back.
“I'm hoping all Saints fans will support me,” said Dunaway. “These people are greedy. They're ruthless.”
Dunaway filed a counterclaim on Monday. He said the term "Who Dat" can't be trademarked because it's widely used to support the Saints.
“I think all New Orleans fans deserve to be able to use that phrase any way they want. They’re the ones that came up with it,” said Dunaway.
But the argument goes even deeper.
“They went out of business, and when they went out of business, they lost any kind of trademark rights that they may have had back in the 1980s,” said Mark Andrews, attorney for the Who Dat Shoppe!
Indeed, records show Who Dat, Inc.'s original state trademarks from 1983 expired, and the company's state license was revoked in 2008. It has since been reinstated, but according to the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office, the company is not currently in good standing for failure to file an annual report.
Who Dat, Inc. was granted active federal and state trademarks for commercial use of the term "Who Dat" within the last two years.
“In 2009, they came back with a vengeance, Saints were winning, they came back into being,” said Andrews.
Who Dat, Inc. settled a number of other lawsuits several years ago, including one against the NFL. The battle with the Who Dat Shoppe is one of three new lawsuits filed late last year.
Greg Latham, a lawyer for Who Dat, Inc. said he had not yet read the counterclaim in full and could not comment.
The trial is set for January.