bird_crow.jpgLos Angeles – A black crow is the subject of debate in an ongoing trademark dispute between alcohol-makers Jim Beam and Jose Cuervo.   

The dispute started back in the 1990’s when Jose Cuervo began labeling its bottles of tequila with an image of a black crow, which infringed on Jim Beam’s use of a crow for its Old Crow bourbon.  An agreement reached by the two companies in 1997 limited Cuervo’s use of the bird image just for its Jose Cuervo Traditional tequila.  Jim Beam agreed to not use the image for its tequila, Souza.

Things heated up again in 2002 when Cuervo began using the bird design for additional labeling on bottles of Jose Cuervo Traditional, as well as marketing materials for its entire line of tequilas.  Attorneys for Jim Beam responded to the infringement by filing a complaint in New York state supreme court in 2008 requesting that Cuervo cease use of the crow.  The complaint also asked for several million dollars in damages.

Luckily for Jim Beam, New York judge Richard Lowe III agreed that Cuervo’s actions were not only in breach but that they justified a damage award.  In a recent summary judgement ruling he stated, “Cuervo has both admitted to violating the terms of the (1997) agreement, and has failed to provide any legal support for its contention that a minor breach of contract does not entitle the non-breaching party to seek damages.” 

The judge also ruled in favor of the enforcement of the original agreement from 1997.