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In U.S. Supreme Court Jack Daniel’s case, a free speech fight over a dog toy – Reuters


WASHINGTON, March 19 (Reuters) – A trademark dispute over a poop-themed dog toy shaped like a Jack Daniel’s whiskey bottle coming before the U.S. Supreme Court could redefine how the judiciary applies constitutional free speech rights to trademark law.

In a case to be argued on Wednesday, the nine justices are expected to use this legal dogfight to clarify the line between a parody protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and a trademark-infringing ripoff, with repercussions extending beyond booze and pet accessories. A ruling is due by the end of June.

Jack Daniel’s Properties Inc, owned by Louisville, Kentucky-based Brown-Forman Corp (BFb.N), is appealing 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.

Some companies have expressed concern that a ruling against Jack Daniel’s would weaken their control over their brands and reputations. Others argue that a ruling favoring the whiskey maker would stifle free-speech rights.

“This is an interesting case because it’s a court that does care about the First Amendment but also cares about business,” said Elizabeth Brannen, a partner at the law firm Stris & Maher who has worked on intellectual property cases before the Supreme Court. “And this is a case where those interests intersect in a way that’s kind of hard to sort out.” . . .

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