WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court on Thursday gave whiskey maker Jack Daniels a reason to raise its glass, giving the company another chance to win a trademark dispute with the maker of Bad Spaniel dog toys.
Justice Elena Kagan was in an unusually playful mood when announcing the unanimous court decision. Her audience, who watched her read a summary of her opinion in court, said at one point she held up a squeaky toy that mimicked the signature bottle of whiskey. .
Mr. Kagan said the reasoning by which the lower court ruled against manufacturers of rubber chew toys was flawed. The court did not determine whether the toy maker violated trademark law and remanded the case for further review.
“This lawsuit concerns dog toys and whiskey, and the two items seldom appear in the same sentence,” Kagan wrote in a court opinion. At another point, Cagan asked the reader, before inserting a color photograph of the bottle, to “Remember what the bottle looks like (or, better yet, take it from where you keep the booze?”). Please take it out. It’s probably there.”
Arizona-based VIP Products has been selling Bad Spaniel toys since 2014. It’s part of the company’s Silly Squeaker series of chew toys that mimic liquor, beer, wine, and soda bottles. Those include Mountain Drool, which parodied Mountain Dew, and his Heini Sniff’n, which parodied Heineken beer.
A bottle of Jack Daniel’s is engraved with “Old No. 7 Brand” and “Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey,” while the toy proclaims “Old No. 2 on your Tennessee carpet.” The original bottle says 40% alcohol. This parody features a dog face and reads “Vol.43% Poop”. And “100% stinky”.
Retailing for about $20, the toy’s packaging reads in small print, “This product is not affiliated with Jack Daniel’s Distillery.”
Jack Daniels, based in Lynchburg, Tennessee, was no fun. The company’s lawyers argued that the toy misled customers, profited “from Jack Daniel’s hard-earned goodwill” and “associated whiskey with excrement.”
At the heart of the case is the Lanham Act, the country’s central federal trademark law. The Act prohibits the use of trademarks in a manner that “could cause confusion . . . regarding the origin, sponsorship or approval of goods.”
However, the lower court never addressed the issue of consumer confusion because it held that toys are “expressive works” that convey humorous messages and therefore must be evaluated under a separate test. Mr. Kagan said this was a mistake and “the only question going forward in this matter is whether bad spaniel markings can cause confusion.”
Kagan also said the lower court had erred in its analysis of Jack Daniel’s claims against the toy company for associating “its whiskey with less flavorful substances.”
The opinion was one of four the court issued on Thursday, including a 5-4 ruling in favor of black voters in Alabama’s congressional redistricting lawsuit. The lawsuit was noted for its potential to undermine the landmark Voting Rights Act.
The case is Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc. v. VIP Products LLC, 22-148.
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https://wgnradio.com/news/national/ruff-day-in-court-supreme-court-sides-with-jack-daniels-in-dispute-with-makers-of-dog-toy/ Rough Day in Court: Supreme Court Upholds Jack Daniels in Dispute With Dog Toy Maker | Wagon Radio 720