Justices asked to hear dog toy dispute, will they bite?

A bottle of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey is displayed next to a Bad Spaniels dog toy in Arlington, Va., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. Jack Daniel's has asked the Supreme Court justices to hear its case against the manufacturer of the toy. [AP]

The company that makes Jack Daniel's is howling mad over a squeaking dog toy that parodies the whiskey's signature bottle.

Now, the liquor company is barking at the door of the Supreme Court. Jack Daniel's has asked the justices to hear its case against the manufacturer of the plastic Bad Spaniels toy.

The high court could say as soon as Monday whether the justices will agree. A number of major companies from the makers of Campbell Soup to outdoor brand Patagonia and jeans maker Levi Strauss have urged the justices to take what they say is an important case for trademark law.

The toy that has Jack Daniel's so doggone mad mimics the square shape of its whisky bottle as well as its black-and-white label and amber-coloured liquor while adding what it calls "poop humour."

While the original bottle has the words "Old No. 7 brand" and "Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey," the parody proclaims: "The Old No. 2 on Your Tennessee Carpet." Instead of the original's note that it is 40 per cent alcohol by volume, the parody says it's "43 per cent Poo by Vol" and "100 per cent Smelly."

The back of the toy, which retails for about $13 (Sh1,573) to $20 (Sh2,420), says in small font "this product is not affiliated with Jack Daniel Distillery."

The toy maker says Jack Daniel's can't take a joke. "It is ironic that America's leading distiller of whiskey both lacks a sense of humour and does not recognise when it - and everyone else - has had enough," lawyers for Arizona-based VIP Products wrote the high court.

They told the justices that Jack Daniel's has "waged war" against the firm for "having the temerity to produce a pun-filled parody" of its bottle. But Jack Daniel's attorney, Lisa Blatt, made no bones about the firm's position in her filing.

"To be sure, everyone likes a good joke. But VIP's profit-motivated 'joke' confuses consumers by taking advantage of Jack Daniel's hard-earned goodwill," she wrote for the Louisville, Kentucky-based Brown-Forman Corp, Jack Daniel's parent company.

Blatt wrote that a lower court decision provides "near-blanket protection" to trademark infringement. She said it has "dangerous consequences," pointing to children who were hospitalised after eating marijuana-infused products that mimicked candy packaging.