Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo Embroiled in Legal Dispute Over Rights to ‘Neptunes’ Name

With hits like Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” Kelis’ “Milkshake,” Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” and dozens of others, Pharrell Williams and longtime collaborator Chad Hugo rode to multiplatinum success as the songwriting/production duo the Neptunes. While Pharrell has become a superstar in his own right over the last two decades, with solo hits like “Happy” and “Freedom,” Hugo has kept a comparatively low profile – but the pair are now in a legal dispute over the group’s name.

In the legal action, which was filed last week and first reported by Billboard on Monday, attorneys for Hugo accused Williams of “fraudulently” seeking sole control over the Neptunes’ trademarks, which they claim is in violation of their agreement to split everything equally. The duo have been friends and collaborators since childhood and were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2022.

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“Throughout their over thirty year history, [Hugo] and Williams agreed to, and in fact, have divided all assets,” Hugo’s attorney, Kenneth D. Freundlich, wrote. “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.”

In a statement to Variety, a rep for Pharrell said: “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.”

At the center of the dispute are three applications to register the name “The Neptunes” as a trademark – one covering for streaming music, another for music videos and other content, and a third for live performances. Hugo’s attorneys claim that Williams had “knowingly and intentionally” filed those applications without Hugo’s input: “Nothing, either written or oral, provided Williams or [PW IP Holdings] with the unilateral authority to register the trademarks.” The attorneys claim they have “repeatedly” contacted Williams’ team about the issue and that his representatives “admitted that [Hugo] is equal co-owner of the trademarks” and promised to include him – as his statements says – but Williams’ company insisted on unspecified “onerous business terms” that would deprive Hugo of proper control and compensation.

Variety will have more on the situation as it develops.

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