The American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) recently joined other trade groups in expressing industry views through amicus curiae briefs.
In the first instance, on September 16, 2022, ACSA joined as amici curiae in support of the petitioner in “Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc. v. VIP Products LLC.” The central issue on petition to the United States Supreme Court is a trademark one, specifically asking the Court to determine whether a “humorous” use of someone else’s trademark on a commercial product is subject to a “likelihood-of-confusion” evaluation or rather, should it receive first amendment protection from a trademark-infringement claim?
VIP Products, LLC manufactures and sells a Bad Spaniel’s dog toy which looks surprisingly like a bottle of Jack Daniels. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out a lower court ruling, holding that “humor to an infringing consumer good entitles that good to broad protections from infringement liability and renders the good ‘noncommercial’ for trademark dilution purposes.” The ruling both conflicts with other circuit’s trademark jurisprudence and the Court’s own intellectual property rulings. The case has broad implications of how our community of trademarks can be misused by others. And, if the appeals court decisions stands, it substantially erodes our spirits industry’s ability to self-regulate. Specifically, it diminishes our ability to make sure that all advertising that uses trademarks associated with our brands is done responsibly, without promoting harm to public health or safety.
The petition for a writ of certiorari was granted in late November with the additional briefs due on the merits in January and February 2023.
In late December of 2022, ACSA joined another amicus curiae brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit in the matter of “Major Brands, Inc. v. Mast-Jagermeister US, LLC and Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Missouri, LLC.” In that appeal, the industry groups joined to support an appeal from a district court jury decision which ultimately extended Missouri’s franchise law, finding a franchise agreement in a case where there was no written contract between the producer and the distributor, the manufacturer had no control over the distributor, and the distributor was non-exclusive. This monopoly/franchise protection case is important because if this holding remains, it will set a dangerous precedent in other states to extend monopoly protection laws.