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SCOTUS Rules on Jack Daniel’s/Bad Spaniels Trademark Case

In a case we’ve been closely following, the Supreme Court issued a ruling earlier this month in the case of Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc. v. VIP Products LLC. The Court ruled in favor of Jack Daniel’s in a unanimous decision which strengthens the protection afforded to trademark owners. The case centers around a dog toy sold by VIP, which resembles the shape of a Jack Daniel’s bottle but replaces “Jack Daniel’s” with “Bad Spaniels” amongst other comedic, “No.2”-related changes to the label.

In March, Dobrusin Law Firm Attorney Erin Klug attended oral arguments for this historic trademark case. Check out our March blog post to read more about the case and the nuanced intersection of parody law and trademark infringement.

The specific issue raised by this case is whether First Amendment free speech protections apply to the parody “Bad Spaniels” label on VIP’s rubber dog toy. The parties argued for and against the continued use of the Rogers test, which is used to balance First Amendment interests against trademark rights; however, the Court’s decision narrowly focused on when the Rogers test applies instead of on its use or continued viability. The key factual holding was that the “Bad Spaniels” label on the toy was used as a source identifier. The Court held that when a mark is used as a source identifier, First Amendment protections do not apply. Thus, an alleged infringer is subject to the traditional likelihood of confusion test when the alleged infringer “has used a trademark as a trademark.” The case will now return to lower courts for continued litigation subject to this narrow opinion.

We will continue to monitor the progress of this case.

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