03/22/2023 By Mackenzie Bruno
Dog owners might not be able to bond over a bottle of Jack with their pups anymore. In a new Supreme Court case, whiskey maker Jack Daniel’s Properties Inc. is battling dog toy manufacturer VIP Products LLC over free speech and federal trademark law.
VIP Products LLC sells a line of dog toys called “Silly Squeakers” that are meant to resemble real-life soda, beers, wines, and liquors. The toy called into question is a squeaking toy that looks like the famous bottle of Jack Daniels. The label on the toy reads “BAD SPANIELS” instead of “JACK DANIELS,” “The Old No. 2” instead of “Old No. 7 Brand,” and “On your Tennessee CARPET” instead of “Tennessee sour mash WHISKEY.”
The Supreme Court will have to decide whether or not the way VIP Products LLC uses the brand’s logo in a humorous fashion violates the federal trademark law or is protected under the First Amendment. In a brief to the Supreme Court, Jack Daniels outlined how they feel the product misleads customers for profit.
“VIP sells products mimicking Jack Daniel’s iconic marks and trade dress that mislead consumers, profit from Jack Daniel’s hard-earned goodwill, and associate Jack Daniel’s whiskey with excrement,” said Jack Daniel’s in brief.
The dog toy company decided to invoke its first amendment rights in its brief to the Supreme Court. VIP Products argues that there is no trademark infringement because the name “Bad Spaniels” is not a real product. They repeatedly emphasized that the toy is for “pretend” use and is not meant to be taken seriously as it is a dog toy.
The district court stated that the toy is a humorous parody that is protected under the First Amendment. In addition, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Ninth Circuit affirmed this jurisdiction.
While this case is being laughed at by many, it does raise important questions about the complications of federal trademark law. Some justices, such as Elena Kagan, question the joke’s validity.
“What is there to it? What is the parody here?” Kagan questioned. “Because maybe I just have no sense of humor. But what’s the parody?”
While details are still coming out about the case, a decision is expected to be made by the end of June.