The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Jim Beam Brands Co. in a lawsuit alleging the company infringes JL Beverage’s Johnny Love Vodka® trademarked logo, an image of puckered lips. JL Beverage Co. v. Jim Beam Brands Co., No. 13-17382 (9th Cir., order entered July 14, 2016). Details on the complaint appear in Issue 387 of this Update.
Bottles of Johnny Love Vodka® feature the name of the brand with a set of puckered lips replacing the “O” in “Love,” which are then colored to represent the flavor of the alcohol. In 2010, Jim Beam Brands redesigned the Pucker® Vodka brand to emphasize a similar set of puckered lips and variety of colors alternated to coordinate with the flavor of the vodka. JL Beverage filed an infringement lawsuit after the company’s customers reported confusion about Pucker’s redesign; the district court denied JL Beverage’s request for a preliminary injunction, then granted summary judgment for Jim Beam.
The Ninth Circuit focused on the lower court’s reasoning for granting summary judgment, finding the court erred by applying the standard for a preliminary injunction to the summary judgment decision. “The district court’s failure to apply the correct standard is significant: on motion for preliminary injunction, the plaintiff—as the moving party—bears the burden of establishing the merits of its claims,” the court noted. “In contrast, on a defendant’s motion for summary judgment, not only does the movant carry the burden of establishing that no genuine dispute of material fact exists, but the court also views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” The lower court “ignored the important distinctions between the two standards,” the Ninth Circuit found.