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Supreme Court takes up Jack Daniel's case against dog toy company

Jack Daniel's is arguing an Arizona-based company is breaking federal trademark laws with dog toys that resemble their iconic whiskey bottle.
A Jack Daniel's bottle and a "Bad Spaniels" dog toy.
A Jack Daniel's bottle and a "Bad Spaniels" dog toy.Court documents

Jack Daniel’s Whiskey has a bone to pick with a dog toy company, and the Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear their case.

VIP Products, an Arizona-based company, makes dog toys that resemble Jack Daniel's iconic whiskey bottles. The "Bad Spaniels Silly Squeaker" toys are labeled "43% Poo by Vol." and the "Old No. 2 on Your Tennessee Carpet." Jack Daniel’s is arguing that the toys are a violation of federal trademark rights and tarnish the company’s brand.

The company said in a filing opposing the motion that the products are a "playful parodic tradition" they have carried on for more than 50 years with a variety of toys including Topps's Wacky Packages trading cards and 'Weird Al' Yankovic.'

"It is ironic that America’s leading distiller of whiskey both lacks a sense of humor and does not recognize when it — and everyone else— has had enough," the brief states. "VIP has never sold whiskey or other comestibles, nor has it used “Jack Daniel’s” in any way (humorously or not). It merely mimicked enough of the iconic bottle that people would get the joke."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in 2020 ruled in favor of VIP Products, saying that their toys are protected under the First Amendment, which prompted Jack Daniel's to seek further review from the Supreme Court.

Several companies including Campbell's Soup Co. and Levi Strauss filed motions in support of Jack Daniel's urging the high court to clarify trademark laws and when they allow such parodies.

"We are pleased that the Supreme Court has decided to hear this case," said Courtney Armour, the chief legal officer for the Distilled Spirits Council, a trade group that represents major spirits brands, including Jack Daniel's parent company Brown–Forman. "The alcohol beverage industry has long worked to ensure that our products are advertised in a responsible manner and trademark infringers can severely jeopardize these efforts."

VIP Products lost a similar case in 2008 when Anheuser-Busch sued the company over a toy labeled "ButtWiper."

The high court will likely hear arguments in the Jack Daniel's case early next year.