WASHINGTON D.C.: The US Supreme Court will hear a trademark dispute over a dog toy shaped like a Jack Daniel's whiskey bottle, and could redefine the application of constitutional free speech rights to trademark laws.
The court's nine justices are expected to use the case to clarify the line between a parody protected by the US Constitution's First Amendment and a trademark-infringing theft, with repercussions extending beyond the actual case. A ruling is expected by the end of June.
A lower court's decision that Phoenix-based VIP Products LLC's "Bad Spaniels" chew toy is an "expressive work" protected by the First Amendment is being appealed by Jack Daniel's Properties Inc, owned by Louisville, Kentucky-based Brown-Forman Corp.
A ruling against Jack Daniel's could weaken the control of companies over their brands and reputations, some major firms have said, while others stressed that a ruling favoring the whiskey maker would curb free-speech rights.
The Biden White House supports Jack Daniel's appeal.
In a brief, the administration said the 9th Circuit should have applied the normal standard for trademark infringement, whether a product creates a likelihood of confusion, with parody among several factors to consider.
However, VIP's attorney Ben Cooper of the firm Dickinson Wright said, "Every First Amendment case has a spillover effect into other areas. So this cannot be seen as being compartmentalized into the world of trademarks."
"Whenever one person's speech is limited, it gets everyone else nervous," he said in an interview.