Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

March 20, 2013

Greenup liquor company sued for trademark infringement

ASHLAND — A Greenup County-based company that markets premium distilled spirits is being sued for trademark infringement.

In a complaint filed recently in U.S. District Court in Ashland, Voss of Norway, an importer of bottled artesian drinking water, accuses High Liquors LLC of stealing its trademark bottle design.

Voss maintains in the suit that High Liquors, the primary business address for which is listed as being in Russell, copied its cylindrical bottle configuration and is selling its products — premium whiskey, vodka, rum and tequila — in containers that are “virtually identical” in appearance to those used by the Norwegian firm.

Voss is seeking a judgment that would require High Liquors to immediately stop marketing its products in those bottles, to destroy any and all containers, advertisements and promotional materials that allegedly infringe on Voss’ trademarks and/or trade dress and to pay unspecified monetary damages.

In addition to infringement of federally registered trademarks, the lawsuit accuses High Liquor of trade dress infringement, product configuration infringement, trademark dilution and unfair competition.

According to the suit, Voss, which is based in Oslo, has marketed bottled water in the U.S. in containers that are cylindrical and clear have the same radius from the bottoms of the bottles to the tops of the cops since 2000. The design “is a unique configuration within the beverage market and within the market for beverage containers.” And, while it serves no functional purpose, it is intended “to evoke the sleek, sophisticated nature” of Voss’ product, the complaint states.

Voss argues that High Liquors’ copying of its bottle design created confusion for consumers because, unlike other bottled water producers, Voss markets its products through licensed alcoholic beverage distributors.

“Plaintiff’s products are often sold in wine shops and in liquor stores, and in clubs, bars and restaurants that sell premium wine and liquor” and are marketed as “a perfect accompaniment to fine wine, or as the perfect mixer to add to fine distilled spirits,” the suit states. also claiming that Voss “innovated the market for selling bottled water this way and in this channel of trade.”

Having High Liquors sell its products in bottles shaped like Voss’ implies a link between the two companies that doesn’t exist, especially since many common drinks combined water with a distilled spirit, Voss’ attorneys argue.

“Consumers seeing defendants’ bottles will likely believe that the beverage within is made by the plaintiff, or is intended to be consumed with the plaintiff’s water or blended therewith,” the complaint reads. “Such beliefs are erroneous, unfairly benefit the defendant and harm the plaintiff.”

Voss also claims it notified High Liquors of the alleged trademark infringement and requested it stop using the cylindrical bottles prior to the filing of the suit, but High Liquors has refused to do so.

High Liquors bills itself as “the world’s first full line of ultra-premium spirits.” The company was founded by Brad Wright and Chris Lawson, who met at the University of Kentucky while both were students there in 1999, according to a company biography on the High Liquors website.

The two came up with the idea for High Liquors while Wright was visiting Lawson in Los Angeles in 2009. A major factor in them doing so, the biography states, was their frustration with the difference in quality between alcohol brands from spirit to spirit.

“Meaning, if there was a vodka brand you love, but you also like tequila, you had to go the extremely expensive route or trying all the tequilas out there in hopes of matching the quality of the vodka brand you enjoy. That is because your favorite vodka brand only makes vodka. Brad and Chris saw this as very limited. So, they asked themselves, ‘What if one brand offered the highest quality spirits available, in every category available?’”

High Liquors hasn’t filed a response to the suit. On Friday, attorneys for both parties filed a motion for an agreed order extending High Liquors’ deadline to file a response by 30 days.

Senior Judge Henry R. Wilhoit Jr. hadn’t ruled on the motion as of Tuesday. It would be the second such extension.

Claims made in civil lawsuits state only side of a dispute.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or

(606) 326-2654.

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