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California Jury Says Tequila Company Ripped Off Dan Ackroyd’s Skull-Shaped Vodka Bottle Design

Tequila Company Ripped Off Dan Ackroyd's Skull-Shaped Vodka Bottle Design

A tequila company ripped off the distinctive skull-shaped bottle of comedy legend Dan Ackroyd’s Crystal Head Vodka, a California federal jury found this week. According to a report on Law 360, jurors handed Crystal Head and Dan Ackroyd a win in its trade dress infringement lawsuit. The eight-person Los Angeles jury deliberated for about four hours before delivering a unanimous verdict in favor of Crystal Head maker Globefill, Inc.

They found that Elements Spirits Inc. and its founder Kim Brandi had deliberately infringed Globefill’s trade dress by making and selling KAH-brand tequila. They also found that the tequila, which comes in skull-shaped bottles could confuse consumers into thinking that it was made by or affiliated with Crystal Head, and had been designed with this objective in mind.

Tattoo Artist Testifies

The smoking gun in this case, at least for jurors, was apparently testimony by Walter “Buddy” Szymoniak, a tattoo artist and occasional sculptor who helped Brandi come up with the design for the skull-shaped tequila bottles. Szymoniak testified before the jury that Brandi was not happy with the original skull design he came up with and gave him one of the Crystal Head’s glass skull-shaped bottles to make a cast of.

Szymoniak said he then used clay tools to modify that copy to produce a version, which Brandi eventually accepted. This testimony was a deathblow for Elements considering Brandi had previously testified that she had never seen the Crystal Head bottle. The judge in the case will now decide how much Elements will have to pay Globefill and injunctive relief in Globefill’s favor. In an interview, Ackroyd’s lawyer David Berg said that the actor was “so human and so good when on the stand, that the jurors really warmed to him.”

Trade Dress Infringement

Trade dress consists of those elements that are used to promote a product or service. This may include packaging, displays and even the configuration of the product. Trade dress can be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and get protection from the federal courts. In order to receive the court’s protection, the trade dress must be unique or inherently distinctive and the alleged use should cause a likelihood of consumer confusion. This lawsuit is yet another piece of proof that the civil justice system works, whether it’s for the average Joe or for a celebrity like Dan Ackroyd.

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