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Whiskey Giant Jack Daniel’s Sues Two Small Texas Brands, Charging They’re Copycats

This is No Mere Bar Fight

BY // 04.26.18

Fill up your decanter now, because there’s a lot of conflict in the world of whiskey. And it’s one for the ages — four to 12 years, at the very least.

If you thought the top-selling American whiskey in the world was chill, you don’t know Jack. Jack Daniel’s, that is. Its corporate ownership, Brown-Forman Corp., has filed a lawsuit against two smaller Texas-based competitors.

The Jack Daniel’s suit cites copyright infringement, false advertising and dilution of trademarks, along with other claims. The accused: Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Distilleries LLC — which operates as Gulf Coast Distillers — and Dynasty Spirits Inc. in Dallas. According to the suit, the companies are teaming up and intentionally trying to create associations between their brand and Jack Daniel’s to encourage purchases.

Is it mimicry? That remains to be seen. But coincidence or copycat, the whiskey gods don’t find it flattering. Jack Daniel’s wants Gulf Coast and Dynasty Spirits to pay injunctive relief, along with triple damages, which would include all legal costs.

Essentially, Jack Daniel’s is accusing the Texas whiskey brands of making their bottles look like the Jack Daniel’s bottle to confuse consumers. The suit alleges that the two brands infringe on Jack Daniel’s decades-old “iconic” trade dress and bottle designs. It’s no surprise Jack Daniel’s just added this language to its website this week: “Jack Daniel first used the square whiskey bottle in 1895. It’s been a part of America ever since.”

The Texas whiskies come in a square bottle with beveled corners, a ribbed neck and angled shoulders, not unlike Jack Daniel’s whiskey. That particular bottle is registered as US trademark number 4,106,178. The black design with the phrasing “Jack Daniel’s,” “Old No. 7,” “Sour mash whisky” and “Tennessee” are also protected as trademark 4,106,179.

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The suit calls out Dallas’ Dynasty Spirits’ Lonehand Whiskey in particular. Jack Daniel’s insists that Dynasty Spirits deliberately evokes Jack Daniel’s, specifically with the arched lettering and the wording “Tennessee Sour Mash.”

A bottle of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey retails for around $20 in stores. A bottle of Lonehand’s Tennessee Sour Mash will set you back around $15.

The suit charges that the Texas companies “pursued a pattern of conduct and an intentional business strategy designed to mislead and deceive consumers into believing that the accused whiskey are made, put out, licensed or sponsored by, or affiliated or associated with Jack Daniel’s.”

In addition, the complaint claims that the Texas companies have urged stores to put their whiskies adjacent to Jack Daniel’s on their selves.

The alleged intentional brand confusion reflects poorly on Jack Daniel’s, the lawsuit also argues. It references the Texas whiskies’ “highly critical customer reviews, indicating that said product is of inferior quality.”

This isn’t Jack Daniel’s first court fight over copyright. Back in 2013, the company filed a suit against Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey, for the perceived similarities in its label.

Jack Daniel’s reputation may have taken a blow back in 2015, when it was on the other side of a legal battle. Sazerac Co. Inc. sued Jack Daniel’s in 2015. The complaint read that Jack Daniel’s use of “Fireball” in its Tennessee Fire’s Google Adwords campaign infringed on its trademark for Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey.

Brown-Forman executives are keeping tightlipped. After requesting a company comment, PaperCity received “The court filing speaks for itself and we are not offering additional comment.” Gulf Coast Distillers is following suit for this suit, responding with, “We do not comment on pending litigation.” No word from Dynasty Spirits yet.

What do you think? Are customers seeing double at the liquor store even before they’ve started drinking?

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