Maker’s Mark Wax Seal Trademark Decision Upheld

By Joseph Mandour on May 11, 2012

whiskey-in-glasses-thumb-200x150-31413 San Diego – The trademarked red wax top of Maker’s Mark Distillery’s bourbon is here to stay. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit released its judgment which upheld an original ruling in a trademark infringement case between Maker’s Mark and Jose Cuervo International that dates back to 2003.

The 19 page opinion made by Judge Boyce Martin states, “Distillers compete intensely on flavor, but also through branding and marketing; the history of bourbon, in particular, illustrates why strong branding and differentiation is important in the distilled spirits market.” This statement goes without saying that any distinct trademark that goes into the making of a product should be considered in a products marketing. This idea paid off for Maker’s Mark which spends about $22 million a year in marketing its bourbon.

Maker’s Mark, created in 1953, began using the red wax dripping on its bottles in 1958 when Margie Samuels experimented with the idea using her deep fryer in Loretto, Kentucky. The signature seal was trademarked in 1985. Maker’s Mark filed a lawsuit to protect its trade dress in 2003 against Jose Cuervo International who was using a similar wax seal dripping on its bottles of Reserva. Cuervo’s Reserva collection began selling in the United States in 2001. However, after a judge ruled that Maker’s Mark had rights to the trade dress, Cuervo changed its bottles to a “straight-edged wax seal”.

When the court ruled that Cuervo was infringing on Maker’s Mark trademark, the famous tequila brand not only had to change the appearance of its bottles but Cuervo’s affiliates were also affected. Diageo North America and Casa Cuervo of Mexico were ordered to stop using the red wax dripping as well after Maker’s Mark requested an injunction against the companies. Its injunction was granted in 2010 and therefore the liquor companies were prohibited from using the red wax seal. Diageo appealed the ruling, which the Court of Appeals has recently upheld.

In a statement made by Maker’s Mark Chief Operating Officer Robert Samuels, he stated that the “outcome confirming that our unique trade dress cannot be infringed is great news for fans of Maker’s Mark, those who handcraft our bourbon, and those who individually dip each bottle every day.” A representative of Diageo North America simply stated that the company was “disappointed with the ruling”.

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