Buffalo Trace Targets Bison Ridge in Trademark / Trade Dress Dispute

Bison-Buffalo

Sazerac Co., the owner of the Buffalo Trace Distillery and its flagship BUFFALO TRACE bourbon, has filed suit against Crosby Lakes Spirits, Co. in the Western District of Kentucky for federal trademark and trade dress infringement and unfair competition.  Sazerac complains that Crosby Lakes Spirits’ BISON RIDGE Canadian Whiskey is a competing product with a confusingly similar trademark and product packaging.

Each of the BISON RIDGE bottles prominently feature a sketched rendering of a standing, forward-facing buffalo, similar to the Buffalo Logo displayed on Sazerac’s BUFFALO TRACE product packaging. As with Sazerac’s BUFFALO TRACE whiskey, BISON RIDGE whisky is golden brown in color and both of its products (BISON RIDGE BLENDED CANADIAN WHISKY and BISON RIDGE SPECIAL RESERVE CANADIAN WHISKY) are marketed in clear bottles featuring the same color combination of brown, white, and gold.  In addition, as with Sazerac’s BUFFALO TRACE product packaging, the neck label on the 1.0 Liter and 1.5 Liter BISON RIDGE BLENDED CANADIAN WHISKY products incorporate an image of a forward-facing buffalo in gold situated in between and immediately above the words “BISON” and “RIDGE,” which are displayed in white font.

The defendant has responded to the Complaint with a motion to dismiss for improper venue, arguing that the case should have been brought in Minnesota.

This case highlights that owners of well-known brands (and if you know bourbon then you know Buffalo Trace) must vigilantly police their trademark and trade dress rights.  Here, even if  a reasonable consumer might not mistakenly purchase the BISON RIDGE product believing it was BUFFALO TRACE bourbon, there is a solid argument that a reasonable consumer would believe the BISON RIDGE product is sponsored by, approved by, or otherwise associated with Sazerac and its Buffalo Trace product.  And if Sazerac did not take action, then its trade mark and trade dress would be somewhat weakened since there would multiple buffalo / bison marks in the same product category, i.e., whiskey.

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