Diageo is suing rum rival Heaven Hill Distillers in Canada claiming the Kentucky firm is infringing its Captain Morgan trademark with its Admiral Nelson's spiced rum.
The suit filed in the Federal Court of Canada pits relative minnow Heaven Hill, which claims to be the largest independent, family owned distiller in the US, against Diageo – the world’s largest spirits company.
The case will explore the merits of the two brands backed by two very different historical characters – bloody brigand Captain Morgan and English naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson.
Diageo insists that Admiral Nelson's infringes and dilutes Captain Morgan’s trade dress, the brand’s ‘iconic’ labeling and the trademark of the controversial character himself.
There does seem a certain similitude between the two characters - see the labels side-by-side above - as well as a degree of poetic license in Heaven Hill's portrayal of a two-armed Admiral Nelson, although in its defense this could be a younger Nelson.
'We will fight these infringements!' - Diageo
Iain Chalmers, VP of marketing, Diageo Canada, said his company appreciates strong competition “as continued innovation maintains consumer excitement and benefits the entire industry”.
“However, we are strongly opposed to competitors copycatting the label design and character trademark of established brands like Captain Morgan,” he added.
“We will fight these infringements wherever we can.”
A spokesman for Heaven Hill Distillery told BeverageDaily.com today: "We have no comment on any pending litigation."
'Jagged edge' reflects Admiral Nelson's brand personality
Heaven Hill redesigned the packaging for Admiral Nelson in spring 2013 and said the bottle's (see picture) front label features an "enhanced version of stylized legendary naval officer Admiral Nelson and jagged edge reflective of the brand's distinct personality".
"The product type is now presented in a bold, clean style that distinguishes it well on the shelf. Finally, to create better recognition at the shelf, the "Admiral Nelson's" logo is now stacked for increased brand recognition. The label and bottle changes will be featured across the entire franchise," the company added.
Hannah Venhoff, Admiral Nelson brand manager said at the time that the original package had led the brand to "great success" as the No.2 selling spiced rum in the United States behind Captain Morgan.
"The time, however, is right to leverage that success with a new, more premium package. We believe the look is a great representation of the growing brand's position as the No.2 selling Spiced Rum," she said.