Isley vs. Isley: Rudolph sues Ronald over Isley Brothers trademark

Tribune Content Agency

A sibling rivalry is unfolding between brothers and former bandmates Rudolph and Ronald Isley in the Illinois court system.

On Monday, Rudolph Isley filed a lawsuit against Ronald Isley accusing his younger brother of secretly and unfairly obtaining exclusive rights to the “Isley Brothers” trademark, which they previously split. Rudolph Isley has requested a trial by jury in a bid to regain his “rightful 50% share” of the Isley Brothers empire.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office approved Ronald Isley’s registration for sole ownership of the Isley Brothers brand in August.

Rudolph Isley maintains that all profits and property accrued under the Isley Brothers trademark have been divided equally among the singing group’s founding members — Rudolph, Ronald and O’Kelly Isley Jr. — since the band’s inception in Cincinnati. After the eldest brother, O’Kelly Isley, died in March 1986, Rudolph and Ronald Isley agreed to 50/50 ownership of the band and trademark, the lawsuit states.

Rudolph Isley departed the family act — which expanded in the 1970s to include Ernie Isley, Marvin Isley and Chris Jasper — in 1989 while dealing with some health issues and mourning the loss of O’Kelly Isley, according to court documents. Though he has not recorded with the band since then, Rudolph Isley has “remained active in promoting and managing the group’s properties” and deserves to keep his half of their earnings, the complaint argues.

Ronald and Ernie Isley now perform as a duo under the Isley Brothers moniker.

“Upon information and belief, [Ronald Isley] has within the past year offered goods and services in commerce to the public under the [trademark] within this judicial district and in other locations, without the authorization or approval of [Rudolph Isley], and has failed to account to or make payment to [Rudolph Isley] in connection with such exploitation of the [trademark],” the court filing reads.

In a letter from Ronald Isley’s attorney to Rudolph Isley’s attorney included in the lawsuit, the former insists that “Ronald has no problem jointly deciding and incorporating Rudolph in Isley Brothers business.”

“However, it would be only for the years that Rudolph was a working member of the Isley Brother’s group,” the correspondence continues.

“Rudolph retired in 1986, has had no involvement in any of the compositions/body of works done after he retired, and has not performed with The Isley Brother’s since the death of Okelly Isley.”

Because “the owner of a trademark is the person … who is actually and actively using the mark in commerce during or near the time of registration,” Ronald Isley’s team claims that Rudolph Isley no longer qualifies for partial ownership of the band name.

Representatives for Ronald Isley did not immediately respond Tuesday to the L.A. Times’ requests for comment.


(L.A. Times news researcher Scott Wilson contributed to this report.)