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LETTER: Captain outranks the admiral

"Only in Canada, you say – pity!" spoken with a very British accent.

I just hope I'm not too seriously infringing Brooke Bond when I say that your editorial in The News today put me in mind of those words in its 1989 ad for Red Rose Tea.

The editorial outlines the recent rum war between the owner of the Captain Morgan rum brand, London, U.K.-based liquor giant Diageo PLC and a competitor, Batstown, Ky.-based Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc., which owns the Admiral Nelson rum brand.

Labels on the bottles of these two rums contain characters – both very loosely based on real sailors, sporting naval uniforms with capes, holding swords and sprouting impressive mustaches.

In 2014, Diageo told Heaven Hill that it was infringing on its trademark and said publicly that the Nelson brand was a "blatantly confusing historical character" that was "clearly intended to mimic" Captain Morgan.

Both companies have Canadian divisions so, in 2014, a trademark lawsuit was filed here in Canada by Diageo Canada Inc. against Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc. (Its Canadian distributor, Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits Ltd., was also named in the suit.)

At issue was whether the two characters could be confused by average shoppers who might not always stop and scrutinize labels. The case which focused on "trade dress," or the overall appearance of the product was decided this past June 12 by Canadian Federal Court Justice Keith Boswell who found in favour of Diageo.

In her writeup of the case published on June 19, 2017, Globe and Mail marketing reporter Susan Krashinsky Robertson asked the question, "Where does a captain outrank an admiral?" And she answered it, "On Canadian liquor-store shelves."

Justice Boswell's Canada Federal Court ruling ordered Admiral Nelson's rum to weigh anchor – finding that it infringes on the Captain Morgan character trademark, and barring sales of products with the Admiral character, or any other bottles that could be confused with Captain Morgan rum.

So Globe and Mail reporter Robertson's question could well be answered, you guessed it, "Only in Canada – pity!"

Ralph Ferguson


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