Supreme Court Rules Against Dog Toy Resembling Liquor Bottle

Jack Daniel’s was pitted against Bad Spaniels Silly Squeakers in a trademark dispute. Bad Spaniels Silly Squeakers, which resembles the distiller’s unique bottle and incorporates toilet humor, was the opposing party.

A bottle of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey sitting next to a Bad Spaniels chew toy on a wooden table. The two items have nearly identical fonts, graphic designs and shapes.
“This case is about dog toys and whiskey,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for a unanimous court, “two items seldom appearing in the same sentence.”Credit…Jessica Gresko/Associated Press

The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment did not protect Daniel’s Jack from a trademark infringement lawsuit, claiming that a toy chew resembling dogs for a bottle.

Described as “playful, dog-related modifications” by an appellate court judge, the Bad Spaniels Silly Squeaker toy resembles a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, with its unique shape and other distinguishing characteristics.

“The volume of alcohol in Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey is said to be 40 percent, where the bottle is replaced by a toy on the carpet of your Tennessee Spaniels’ No. 2, No. Old brand.”

The toy has a label stating that it is “not associated with Jack Daniel Distillery.”

Stated, “two items rarely appearing in the same sentence,” she stated, “This case concerns dog toys and whiskey,” appeared entertained by the disagreement, Justice Elena Kagan, penning for a united court.

She mentioned that the qualities of the whisky container were recognizable to nearly everyone.

“There is probably liquor there; wherever you keep it, retrieve a bottle from there yet, it would be better to recall what the bottle looks like,” she wrote. The Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey proudly boasts a fair number of trademarks.”

The unique square container of the whiskey is officially recognized, serving as the foundation for all those trademarks. Additionally, the stylized tag with intricate designs (i.E., Swirling white lines) and the curved Jack Daniel’s emblem are also protected under ‘Old No. 7.’ Similarly, ‘Jack Daniel’s’ is a legally registered trademark. Once the color picture of the bottle was duplicated, she proceeded.

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In the Bad Spaniels case, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, located in San Francisco, stated that the First Amendment necessitated a more rigorous examination when the disputed product was articulating a concept or perspective. Typically, trademark disputes revolve around determining whether the general public is prone to becoming perplexed regarding the origin of a product.

Although surely not the equivalent of Mona Lisa, Bad Spaniels is an expressive work that uses wordplay and irreverent humor to poke fun at the panel of Judge Jack, written by Andrew D. Hurwitz.

However, in this particular instance, Justice Kagan stated that there is no place for “any initial First Amendment filter.” She expressed, “the violation allegation in this situation either succeeds or fails based on the likelihood of confusion.” Nonetheless.

Returning the case to lower courts for analysis, Justice Kagan noted that the chew toy mockery of a liquor bottle in question is a classic trademark infringement case. She emphasized that it may not be obvious to consumers that the toy is making fun of Jack Daniel’s, and therefore, the responsibility for creating a toy that pokes fun at itself falls on the company.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. Imagined a pitch meeting with a Jack Daniel’s executive, making a similar point when the case was argued in March.

Said Justice Alito, “it is unlikely that consumers would think that the toy chew endorsed or produced by the distiller is meant to resemble dog urine, and our brand name Spaniels Bad seems to closely resemble our brand name and label, and I think we have a great idea for a product, which is to produce this toy dog in Jack Daniel’s.”

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Justice Kagan echoed her opinion, stating, “The act of mocking itself is likely to make consumers think that the maker of the product being mocked does not believe in it.” She also added, “Self-deprecation is a common form of mockery, far from being an extraordinary thing.”

In a concurring opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined Justice Alito in cautioning lower courts against placing too much credence on commonplace surveys assessing consumer confusion in trademark litigation that purport to demonstrate confusion by an allegedly infringing product.

May indicate a misguided conviction among certain participants in the survey that every parody necessitates authorization from the proprietor of the parodied symbol, she penned. The aforementioned surveys

The brief stated that it confuses customers by capitalizing on the well-established reputation of Jack Daniel’s. Lawyers representing the distiller expressed in a Supreme Court brief for the case Jack Daniel’s Properties v. VIP Products, No. 22-148, that “everyone enjoys a humorous anecdote.”

“Starting with ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic collectible cards and extending to Topps’s Wacky Packages, spanning over fifty years, VIP Products, the manufacturer of the toy, has reportedly been accompanied by their legal representatives.”

The justices were informed that in the 1970s, baseball cards produced by Topps were extremely popular, outselling all other cards at that time. Products such as Oil Gulp, Giant Mean Jolly, and Crackers Ratz imitated real items, while also imitating fake products, in the trading card industry.

Adam Liptak, a Yale Law School graduate, practiced law before joining The New York Times in 2002. He writes a column on legal developments and covers the Supreme Court.

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Subscribe | Get a copy of today’s newspaper | Order reprints. A container resembling alcohol as a toy goes against the regulations set by the justices. The headline of this article appears on Page 16 of Section A in the print version of the New York edition.

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