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Complaint over TWE's use of "Stag" name in the US is dismissed

Published:  17 November, 2016

The on-going legal battle between two leading wine companies over the use of 'The Stag' name and imagery has reached another benchmark as the complaint was dismissed temporarily by a judge.

A court has dismissed the complaint from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars (SLWC) and its parent company Ste. Michelle Wine Estates (SMWE), in a lawsuit against Australian wine company TWE - which also owns a Californian winery - for its use of the brand name 'The Stag' in the US.

TWE is seeking to launch its Australian The Stag brand in the US.

In the conclusion from the court ruling, the district judge said that the motion to dismiss the complaint was granted because SLWC and SMWE could not currently demonstrate the impact of the name, imagery, and descriptions because the wine has not yet been release.

"The dismissal of the existing complaint is warranted because it remains to be seen what, if any, use in commerce there will be of legally-actionable marks," it said.

However, it did leave the case open to be resumed once, and if, this can be demonstrated, adding that there is "little doubt that the parties have a present and existing controversy that may properly be addressed through claims for injunctive and/or declaratory relief".

TWE denies that it is delaying the launch of the wine to stifle the lawsuit, and insists the launch will go ahead early next year.

In their defence, a spokesperson for TWE said that several other wine brands have used the word 'stag' in their brand name for wine sourced from both inside and outside of Napa Valley and that SLWC and SMWE are trying to stifle lawful competition.

"We are not making any link between The Stag brand and Stags' Leap Winery or the Stags Leap District - this was made very clear to SLWC and SMWE before they filed their lawsuit.

"Imagery of the stag has long been associated with the historic St Huberts winery in Victoria, Australia, and we are taking an Australian proposition to the US, with locally sourced wine.

"It is SLWC and SMWE who are desperately attempting to make the link to the Stags Leap District through their publicity efforts," they said.

SMWE's complaint was for false designation of origin, unfair competition, false advertising, and dilution under US law.

In a statement released to Harpers, a spokesperson said: "There is no doubt the judge recognised Treasury's use of The Stag brand as an issue. The judge's order made clear it was merely procedural and did not decide the merits of the litigation or approve of The Stag.

"Indeed, the order expressly provides Stag's Leap Wine Cellars the opportunity to pursue the case. The main defense Treasury raised was essentially a delaying tactic: the Court should not yet hear the case because Treasury claims it is not yet using The Stag in commerce.

"Treasury is apparently taking the position it will voluntarily keep the brand off the market until the case is resolved. We look forward to demonstrating in court that Treasury is trying to improperly capitalize on the prestige and reputation of the Stags Leap name."