This week, we finally see the conclusion of a trademark infringement lawsuit that began nine years ago. That's enough litigation to drive anyone to drink, so it's appropriate that the two parties involved were the Maker's Mark bourbon distillery and the maker of Casa Cuervo tequila.
This blog has followed the lawsuit for the past couple of years (see our most recent entry on the subject, In Defense of Good Taste).
When last we visited the case, U.S. District Judge John Heyburn in Louisville, Kentucky had ruled that Casa Cuervo's use of a dripping red wax seal on its $100 bottles of "Reserva de la Familia" tequila infringed, but did not dilute or weaken, Maker's Mark's trademark. (For readers who abstain from strong drink, Maker's Mark bourbon bottles have had dripping wax seals on the top since the company's founding in 1958.) Judge Heyburn awarded attorney's fees to Maker's Mark but no damages.
Cuervo appealed the ruling and sought to invalidate Maker's Mark's trademark on red dripping wax seals. That strategy, however, did not end well for Casa Cuervo: the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that Maker's Mark has an "extremely strong" trademark that it can enforce against other liquor companies who use similar seals.
The judge went so far as to note bourbon's "unique place in American culture and commerce." Now that's having pride in one's country!
Casa Cuervo's U.S. distributor, Diageo Plc, is disappointed with the ruling but says the decision will have "no practical effects" on Casa Cuervo's products going forward, as the company hasn't used the red dripping wax seal motif on its tequila bottles since 2004.