Supreme Court backs Jack Daniel's in dog toy row

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Jack Daniel's bottle and dog toyImage source, US Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court has sided with whiskey brand Jack Daniel's in its lawsuit against a company that sells a lookalike poop-themed toy for dogs.

The dog toy says "Old No. 2 on your Tennessee Carpet", while the famous whiskey bottle reads "Old No. 7 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey".

In a unanimous decision on Thursday, the top US court found that the toy is a trademark violation.

The unusual case led to laughter in the court, and a few jokes in the opinion.

Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the court's opinion, noted: "This case is about dog toys and whiskey, two items seldom appearing in the same sentence."

At another point she asks court watchers to "recall what the bottle looks like (or better yet, retrieve a bottle from wherever you keep liquor; it's probably there)".

The decision throws out an appeal that found that the toy was a "non-commercial" parody, subject to First Amendment free speech protections, and throws the case back to lower courts.

The filing by the whisky makers argued that the Arizona-based VIP Products LLC was profiting "from Jack Daniel's hard-earned goodwill" and confusing consumers, by getting them to "associate Jack Daniel's whiskey with excrement". The toy costs about $20 (£16). ''

The bottle of liquor says "40% alcohol by volume", while the "Bad Spaniels Silly Squeaker" chew toy reads "43% poo by volume" and "100% Smelly". The packaging includes a label noting that it is not affiliated with Jack Daniel's.

The company also produces other similar toys that resemble other notable alcohol and soda brands.

Lawyers for the Tennessee whisky company said they found no humour in the pun.

"Jack Daniel's loves dogs and appreciates a good joke as much as anyone. But Jack Daniel's likes its customers even more, and doesn't want them confused or associating its fine whiskey with dog poop," Lisa Blatt, attorney for Jack Daniel's, wrote in court papers.

The Biden administration and major brands - such as Nike, Campbell Soup Company, Patagonia and Levi Strauss - had urged justices to side with Jack Daniel's.

In a statement after the ruling, a spokesman for Jack Daniels said the company was pleased with the outcome.

"Jack Daniel's is a brand recognised for quality and craftsmanship, and when friends around the world see the label, they know it stands for something they can count on," said Svend Jansen.

"We will continue to support efforts to protect the goodwill and strength of this iconic trademark."

The case is the second intellectual property law that the court has ruled on in recent months.

In May, the court found that artist Andy Warhol had infringed on a photographer's property rights when he used images taken by the photographer to make silk screen images showing the singer Prince.