Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Jack Daniel’s Over Dog Toy in Trademark Dispute

June 8, 2023

The Supreme Court Thursday ruled 9-0 in favor of Jack Daniel’s in a trademark dispute with the maker of a dog toy—called “Bad Spaniels”—that looked similar to the whiskey’s bottle.

The Court heard arguments in the case of Jack Daniel’s Properties Inc v VIP Products LLC in March.

The “Bad Spaniels” toy resembled the liquor’s square bottle-like shape, amber color, and black-and-white label. And Jack Daniel’s argued that the toy infringed upon its trademarks. 

While the original bottle has the words “Old No. 7 brand” and “Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey,” the toy proclaims, “The Old No. 2 on Your Tennessee Carpet.” The original bottle notes it is 40% alcohol by volume. The toy features a dog’s face and says it is “43% Poo by Vol.” and “100% Smelly.”

Further, the toy, which retails for about $13-$20, says on the packaging, “This product is not affiliated with Jack Daniel Distillery.”

But the whiskey maker, which asserted that it “loves dogs and appreciates a good joke as much as anyone,” also argued in its Supreme Court filing that it “likes its customers even more, and doesn’t want them confused or associating its fine whiskey with dog poop.”

Jack Daniel’s attorney Lisa Blatt went on to assert in the filing that the toy maker was profiting off of her company’s “hard-earned goodwill” by associating its product “with excrement.” 

In the unanimous decision written by Justice Elena Kagan, the Court threw out a 9th Circuit court ruling that the pun-laden chew toy was an “expressive work” protected by the First Amendment.

In her opinion, Kagan concluded that “it is not appropriate when the accused infringer has used a trademark to designate the source of its own goods—in other words, has used a trademark as a trademark. That kind of use falls within the heartland of trademark law, and does not receive special First Amendment protection.”

However, she stressed that the Court’s decision was narrow.

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