Squeaky toy causes trademark dog-fight at the Supreme Court

Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 2:43 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - A dog toy is making a big squeak at the Supreme Court Wednesday.

Jack Daniels Whiskey is suing a pet company for trademark infringement over a toy that looks like one of their bottles.

The judges chewed on some big questions about product parody, and what constitutes trademark violation.

The main question:

Is a dog toy that looks like a bottle of Jack Daniels actually harming the Jack Daniels brand?

“Quite honestly, if I were the Supreme Court, I wouldn’t want to decide this case. This is a tough on,” said trademark lawyer Michael Kondoudis.

While some see the toy as a clear trademark violation, copying Jack Daniels likeness and bottle shape, parody products are usually protected under free speech.  Defense lawyer Bennett Cooper argued Wednesday in front of the Supreme Court that the toy is just that.

“Jack Daniels advertised in self-serious way that Jack is everyone’s friend and Bad Spaniels is a parody, playfully comparing Jack to Man’s other best friend,” said Cooper.

But Jack Daniels doesn’t think the joke is very funny - and is refusing to roll over.

“Under our system, a trademark owner is responsible for enforcing their trademark rights and keeping their trademark, what’s called, as we call it, distinctive,” said Kondoudis.

The pet company may be barking up the wrong tree, as they turn a profit on the toys.  That could muddy their free-speech defense.

“When you move beyond just parody and you move into commercialization where you’re actually making a line of products and selling them for profit,” said Kondoudis. “The line gets blurry as to what is commentary and protected versus what is just ordinary commercial activity which is subject to trademark protection.”

Judges are expected to release their formal opinions on this case in June.