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Diageo loses Explorers’ Club trademark battle

Diageo could be forced to pull bottles of its Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club Collection – the group’s biggest ever investment in travel retail – after it lost a  trademark lawsuit.

Johnnie Walker Royal Route
A New York court has banned Diageo’s Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club Collection range

A New York judge imposed a permanent injunction against the range on Monday, claiming that Diageo did not have permission to use the name, and had unfairly benefitted from association with a real-life club.

In March this year, the New York-based, not-for-profit Explorers Club – which claims to have “promoted the scientific exploration of land, sea, air and space” since its inception in 1904 – filed a civil lawsuit against Diageo over the “confusingly similar” name of its Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club range.

The club opposed Diageo’s use of the Explorers’ Club name in April 2013 unless it agreed to pay a license fee, however negotiations broke down and Diageo launched the collection without a resolution.

Manhattan judge Justice Charles Ramos said: “It is clear that Diageo’s adoption of the name of the Explorers’ Club was for the purpose of leading the public to believe that it was connected or affiliated with the club.”

He added that Diageo had “indisputably profited enormously from the purported unlawful and disputed use of the club’s name, to the tune of approximately $50 million in sales.”

The Explorers’ Club range is a series of blended whiskies launched in December 2012, marking Diageo’s most significant investment in travel retail. The first collection to launch was the Trade Route series, which included The Spice Road, The Gold Route and The Royal Route whiskies.

A spokesperson for Diageo said: “We are extremely disappointed and disagree with the decision of Judge Ramos.

“We are awaiting official receipt of the order and are planning to seek to stay the injunction while we immediately appeal this case.”

New York’s 120-year-old Explorers Club, which once counted Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin among its members, funds scientific and educational research.

The New York Post reports that The Explorers Club is now pursuing a federal case against Diageo for monetary damages.

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