Trademark disputes in the alcohol industries are often times absurd enough to make the comments section question whether everyone involved was simply drunk. While I’m sure the lawyers on all sides tend to be sober, every once in a while you read a claim in a big-boy legal document that makes you pause and wonder. And, then, sometimes the dispute centers around a public figure punning off his own notoriety, making the trademark claims extra ludicrous.
Meet Bob Dylan. Bob used to be a counterculture folksinger hero that eschewed the trappings of materialism and sang as one of the original social justice warriors. Present day Bob sings songs on car commercials and owns a Whiskey brand. And, hey, Bob’s allowed to make money, no matter how jarring this might be to those born decades ago. His Heaven’s Door Whiskey is, sigh, allowed to exist. It’s also allowed to fight back against the absurd trademark lawsuit brought by Heaven’s Hill Distillery over its logo and trade dress.
Heaven Hill Distillery has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Heaven’s Door Spirits, a whiskey line co-owned by Dylan that was released earlier this year. The company’s name is a reference to Dylan’s 1973 song Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Louisville, argues that the Bardstown-based company was founded by the Shapira family shortly after prohibition ended in the 1930s and has used the trademark for more than 80 years. A Heaven Hill attorney sent a cease-and-desist letter to Chicago-based Heaven’s Door in April, saying the start-up distillery’s use of its trademark “will create a likelihood of confusion” with the Kentucky bourbon brand’s products. The letter specifically notes that Heaven’s Door has introduced a “stacked” logo similar to the one used by Heaven Hill.
Dylan’s company responded saying it didn’t believe there would be any public confusion over the logos and trade dress and that it wasn’t going to be making any of the changes requested. When it comes to these disputes, it’s useful to actually put the entire products next to one another to see how similar they are. Simple logos can sometimes be squinted at and seen as similar, but on the question of confusion in the marketplace you really have to put the products side by side and imagine yourself in a store trying to decide between the two. I’ve done that for you below.
It’s frankly hard to imagine how anyone is going to be confused between these two liquor brands. The bottle shape is different. The label placement is different. The fonts aren’t the same and neither are the color schemes for the labels. Even the logos themselves aren’t particularly similar, stacked or otherwise. And, of course, there is the mockup of the ironwork sculpting on Dylan’s bottle, modeled after his own iron sculpting artwork. Even the name of the brand is a reference to Dylan. How any of this adds up to market confusion is beyond me.
And, yet, Heaven Hill essentially wants to scuttle Dylan’s whiskey business altogether.
The lawsuit is asking a judge to grant a temporary injunction prohibiting Heaven’s Door from producing, distributing or marketing until the lawsuit is concluded. In addition, attorneys for Heaven Hill want a judge to force Heaven’s Door to “deliver up for destruction or other disposition all goods, packaging, containers, advertisements, promotions, signs, displays” with their company name.The suit is also seeking unspecified monetary damages.
Somehow, despite this suit, I would guess that Dylan’s whiskey will continue to be released.
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