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Jack Daniel’s wins dog toy lawsuit

The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of Jack Daniel’s in its trademark battle against a producer of dog toys with ‘unsavoury themes’.

Bad Spaniel's dog toy
The dog toy imitated the Jack Daniel’s bottle and carried the text ‘43% poo by vol’ and ‘100% smelly’

The lawsuit was over dog toy maker VIP Products’ Bad Spaniel’s Old No.2 on your Tennessee Carpet product. The dog toy is a replica of a Jack Daniel’s bottle with black labels and white text, and carries the wording ‘The Old No.2 on your Tennessee Carpet’.

The toy also carried the text ‘43% poo by vol’ and ‘100% smelly’. The Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey brand features a label that reads ‘40% ABV’.

In November 2022, the Supreme Court of the US agreed to hear the trademark case and a hearing was held in March this year.

The Supreme Court has now sided with the Brown-Forman-owned whiskey brand in a decision revealed on 8 June.

The court said Bad Spaniel’s had infringed on the Jack Daniel’s trademarks and ‘associated the famed whiskey with dog excrement’.

Brown-Forman said in a statement: “We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision recognising the rights of brand owners.

“Jack Daniel’s is a brand recognised for quality and craftsmanship and when friends around the world see the label, they know it stands for something they can count on. We will continue to support efforts to protect the goodwill and strength of the iconic trademark.”

In 2018, the District Court had ruled in favour of Jack Daniel’s over the likelihood that the infringing product would result in consumer confusion and that the company’s use of “juvenile bathroom humour” would tarnish the whiskey brand.

However, in March 2020, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the toys were ‘expressive’ works that carried a humorous message. As such, its use of similar trademarks and branding to Jack Daniel’s was protected by the First Amendment.

In October 2020, six trade associations, including the Distilled Spirits Council of the US (Discus), filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to grant the request for certiorari, a judicial review of the decision, and reverse the verdict.

The case had received support from the Biden administration, as well as other major brands, such as Nike and Patagonia.

‘Big win for brand owners’

“While this case focused on silly dog toys, the issue of trademark infringement is very serious and this unanimous ruling is a big win for brand owners working hard to responsibly market their products,” said Courtney Armour, chief legal officer, Discus.

“The justices fully understood that consumer confusion is a critical point of analysis and should not be circumvented just because something is arguably funny. This ruling ensures that companies will be able to control their trademarks to ensure responsible advertising initiatives are effective and succeed.”

Jack Daniel’s recently lost a UK trademark dispute against two comedians who named their Scotch whisky after their on-screen characters.

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