The company Folkmanis, Inc., which manufactured the original stuffed animal used as Bert, is suing CBS and affiliated companies, alleging that the network has been selling unlicensed Bert the Farting Hippo toys manufactured by a company in China, and ended its contract with Folkmanis as a result.
The lawsuit, which was filed Monday, explains that Bert the Farting Hippo first appeared on NCIS in 2003, a year after Folkmanis started making the plush toys. The flatulent puppet, which belongs to Abby, became a fan favorite and has since made an appearance in more than a dozen NCIS episodes.
Folkmanis stopped making the hippos in 2006, but began manufacturing a smaller version in 2009. The following year, CBS reached a deal with Folkmanis whereby the company would make a special version of the puppet that would include the farting sound effect and which CBS could sell to fans. More than 30,000 puppets were produced and sold, and Folkmanis eventually started making Bert the Farting Hippo keychains as well.
Now, Folkmanis is suing Delivery Agent Inc. and S.F. Global Sourcing for copyright infringement, alleging that both companies reached out to China-based Shanghai Orlind Toy Co. to obtain unlicensed Bert toys. As a result, Folkmanis says, CBS stopped ordering from Folkmanis. The company is seeking $733,000 in lost profits.
There's typically a whole host of Bert merchandise available in CBS's online store, including T-shirts, keychains, and a full-size costume in addition to the stuffed animals. However, as of Tuesday afternoon, all of the items had been removed.
The network responded to the lawsuit with a tongue-in-cheek statement: “We believe this to be a flatulent abuse of the legal system, and we intend to clear the air on this matter immediately.”
As part of the lawsuit, Folkmanis is requesting that merchandise based on the impostor Bert the Farting Hippo be destroyed.