The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear arguments over whether a company can continue to produce a dog toy shaped and decorated like a Jack Daniel’s whiskey bottle, or whether the squeaky plaything is infringing on the company’s trademark.
Jack Daniel’s is asking the court to stop VIP products from producing the toy with the name “Bad Spaniels,” saying its parody of the label goes too far.
The toy is part of a line of dog toys called Silly Squeakers that imitates famous alcohol and soda brands. One toy, called “Cataroma Extra,” looks like a bottle of Corona beer. Another, named “Mountain Drool,” resembles a Mountain Dew soft drink bottle.
The toy bottle that the country’s highest court will consider Wednesday reads “BAD SPANIELS” instead of “JACK DANIEL’S,” “The Old No. 2″ instead of “Old No. 7 Brand,” and “On your Tennessee CARPET” instead of “Tennessee sour mash WHISKEY.”
Instead of promising 40% alcohol by volume, it promises “43% poo by volume, 100% smelly.”
According to NPR, VIP’s owner, Stephen Sacra, says he got the idea for the Bad Spaniels parody when he was out for dinner and caught sight of the iconic Jack Daniel’s bottle. He said he called his graphics designer on the spot and told him, “I got two words for you: Bad Spaniels.”
The case has been in the court system for several years. A district court found VIP’s use of the Jack Daniel’s trademark was likely to confuse consumers and ruled in favor of Jack Daniel’s. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of VIP in 2020.
“To be sure, everyone likes a good joke,” lawyers for Jack Daniel’s wrote in court papers. “But VIP’s profit-motivated ‘joke’ confuses consumers by taking advantage of Jack Daniel’s hard-earned goodwill.”
The Supreme Court will have to decide when the “humorous use” of a brand’s logo in a commercial product violates federal trademark law or deserves protection under the First Amendment.