The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Monday, alleged that Warner Bros. and its subsidiaries — who own the tangible merchandising rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit brands — infringed on copyrights by licensing to casino slot machines, online gambling, games and downloads.
In the complaint, which also names The Saul Zaentz Company which also has licensing rights, Tolkien's estate accuses Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc., of "infringing conduct."
"Not only does the production of gambling games patently exceed the scope of defendants' rights, but this infringing conduct has outraged Tolkien's devoted fan base, causing irreparable harm to Tolkien's legacy and reputation and the valuable goodwill generated by his works," the lawsuit stated.
The suit claims Warner Bros. has earned "millions" of dollars from legal merchandising licensing revenue related to the movies.
The estate of the late English author and HarperCollins, a division of News Corp., are asking for at least $80 million in damages from the movie studio and its various subsidiaries.
Representatives for Warner Bros., Tolkien's estate and HarperCollins were not immediately available for comment.
The lawsuit comes a week ahead of the New Zealand-premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of a new trilogy of films returning to Tolkien's world of elves, goblins and wizards of Middle Earth, based on the The Lord of the Rings prequel novel The Hobbit.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson and released between 2001 and 2003, has grossed nearly $3 billion at the global box office, and won 17 Oscars.