14 August 2018Trademarks

Sazerac accuses distillery of ripping off moustache liqueur

Sazerac Company yesterday accused a Massachusetts-based liqueur producer of infringing trademarks relating to the Dr McGillicuddy’s brand of flavoured spirits.

MS Walker has begun using a “confusingly similar mark” to the image of Dr McGillicuddy (a man with a moustache who is dressed in turn-of-the-century clothes) for its flavoured liqueurs, according to the claim, filed at the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

The portrait of Dr McGillicuddy himself isn’t registered as a trademark (although an image of the doctor sitting down next to a dog is registered for alcoholic beverages) but, according to Sazerac, it has acquired protectable common law trademark rights.

Sazerac has used the Dr McGillicuddy’s brand for nearly 30 years, having invested “thousands of employee hours and millions of dollars in connection with advertising and promoting” the trademarks.

In addition to the design mark of Dr McGillicuddy’s profile, Sazerac expressly emphasises the character’s moustache in its marketing (such as bottle openers in the shape of the facial hair and shot glasses) and online, where the “Mustache Machine” encourages users to upload a photo and superimpose various moustaches.

“No other flavoured-distilled spirit marketed or sold in Massachusetts uses a design mark comprised of a black and white portrait of a man with a prominent moustache wearing a suit with a bow tie,” said the suit.

Sazerac claimed that, not only is MS Walker using a similar image (a profile of a man with a moustache) but that the company is also placing its mark on a yellowed, parchment themed background with other creative elements “intended to evoke a turn-of-the-century theme”.

MS Walker’s mark is also applied to a product with a possessive personal name, Maurice’s, and is used with an “uncommon” menthol flavour name, “Mentholated Mint”.

The Dr McGillicuddy’s brand includes liqueurs of flavours including Mentholmint and Root Beer.

“Given the overall commercial context of its use, the defendant intended to free ride on the goodwill of Sazerac’s brand, to cause confusion or an association, and to lessen the distinctive source identifying quality of the Dr McGillicuddy’s design marks,” alleged the claim.

Sazerac is seeking an injunction, a recall of the products, profits and triple damages.

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More on this story

24 April 2017   A trademark infringement dispute between Diageo and Sazerac has been dismissed after both parties agreed to a settlement.
20 February 2017   US-based distillery Sazerac Brands has filed a trademark infringement and trade dress lawsuit against an alcohol manufacturer.