(Bloomberg) -- Ten-gallon cowboy hat inventor John B. Stetson Co. says a distributor is trying to vamoose with the rights to sell the head covering of choice for the likes of Buffalo Bill Cody and John Wayne.
The 157-year-old company wants a Delaware judge to find RHE Hatco. Inc. -- a maker and seller of western chapeaus -- doesn’t have exclusive authority under a 1987 license to sell Stetsons through retail or e-commerce sites. Stetson no longer possesses a copy of the 35-year-old contract, according to a May 11 lawsuit.
“For well over 1 year, they have attempted to control these rights that belong to Stetson,” lawyers for the Hoboken, New Jersey-based company said in the lawsuit. “Such rights were not covered in the license and never would have been granted by Stetson in the first place.”
The emblematic cowboy hats -- some fetching more than $5,000-- have been de rigueur among rodeo riders and ranch hands west of the Mississippi River for a century and a half. They’ve graced the noggins of politicians, celebrities and country singers such as late former President Lyndon Johnson and actors like Wayne and Johnny Depp. The Stetson is also the state of Texas’s official headgear.
RHE Hatco didn't immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment on Stetson’s lawsuit.
Stetson claims RHE Hatco had become so aggressive in asserting rights to sell the headwear that they refused to “sell Stetson-branded products to Stetson,” according to the Delaware Superior Court suit.
John B. Stetson first created his hats in his Philadelphia factory in 1865 to keep the sun off of cowboys’ heads. Since the 1970s, the hats have been manufactured in the Dallas suburb of Garland by RHE Hatco, which is incorporated in Delaware.
The case is John B. Stetson Co. v. RHE Hatco. Inc., No. N22C-05-084-EMD-CCLD, Delaware Superior Court (Wilmington).
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