Diageo sues Deutsch over olde-tyme bottle design

Got a Kick

Multinational beverage giant Diageo has found a hit product in Bulleit Bourbon. A top-15 whiskey brand, Bulleit Bourbon sales grew by more than 17 percent between May 2016 and May 2017. The brand is making an impact in the market, and it’s no surprise that Diageo is protective of it.

On June 6, Diageo launched a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against rival Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, claiming that Deutsch’s competing Redemption brand infringed Diageo’s trademark and trade dress rights, “unfairly [trading] on the reputation of Diageo’s extremely popular Bulleit brand.”

Old Is the New New

With a canteen-shaped bottle and its brand name embossed in a vintage font above an aged paper label, Bulleit’s packaging has a distinct design. As the suit proclaims, the drink is being promoted as a “frontier whiskey,” with packaging intended to “evoke the rugged look and feel of the American Frontier.” Diageo obtained a federal trademark registration for the bottle design. According to the complaint, Deutsch’s competing brand Redemption strayed too close to that identity for Diageo’s comfort.

Diageo claims that the Redemption brand, formerly sold in cylindrical bottles with a modern silhouette, was retooled in Bulleit’s trademarked image shortly after the brand was acquired by Deutsch. Diageo points to the bottle’s shape and the label’s embossed lettering as evidence, and notes that Redemption is branded as “saloon era” and “pre-prohibition” liquor – another supposed echo of Bulleit’s frontier flavor. Diageo seeks destruction of infringing stock, injunctive relief, profits, damages and attorneys’ fees. Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits denies the charges and promises to fight the lawsuit.

The Takeaway

Diageo is no stranger to this type of litigation; last December, the company slapped competitor Sazerac with a trademark infringement suit, claiming that Sazerac’s line of Dr. McGillicuddy’s liqueurs bore too close a resemblance to Bulleit. The companies reached a settlement out of court in April, with Sazerac agreeing to modify its packaging. A spokesperson from Diageo said, “Diageo is committed to protecting the intellectual property rights of its well-known brands.”