Can a parody lead to trademark laws being infringed? – Jack Daniel’s Properties v VIP Products LLC

The famous whiskey brand, Jack Daniels, has been in a legal trademark battle with VIP Products LLC for a number of years now.  VIP Products LLC is a dog toy manufacturer, who has been accused of producing a dog toy named “Bad Spaniels” which is almost identical to Jack Daniels whiskey bottle.

It has been argued that the creation of “Bad Spaniels” is a clear Trade Dress infringement.

Evidencing from the clear similarities between the two products, while one is branded as Jack Daniels the other is branded as Bad Spaniels. Additionally, while Jack Daniels has “Old No.7” written in a circle logo, Bad Spaniels has “Old No.2”, making it clear that the dog toy brand is attempting to create clear imitators to the Jack Daniels whiskey bottle.

Nevertheless, can these factors lead to IP law infringement?

Initially, when Jack Daniels first made their case, the judge decided in Jack Daniels favour. Nevertheless, the case became more complicated when the federal appeals court overturned the decision, as they expressed that the toy amounted to an expressive work and therefore Jack Daniels did not have a case, as parody is protected.

Could a dog toy be classed as art?

VIP Products LLC stated that this product was simply attempting to humanise dogs. Moreover, the court then went on to add that the product did not need to achieve high levels of expressiveness to be able to have protection. Nevertheless, it was argued that the Biden administration seems to believe that the toy manufacturers were simply endeavouring to drive IP law to its limit, and therefore decided to file a brief with the Supreme Court, stating that the VIP Products LLC should not be given protection.

Biden Administration expressed in their brief that the law “does not confer any right to use another person’s trademark, or a confusingly similar mark, as a source identifier for goods sold in commerce”.  Which leaves us to wait for the Supreme Court of the United States decision on the case.

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