50 Cent is headed toward a trial in a federal lawsuit that claims his Branson brand of cognac copied the design of Rémy Martin’s bottle after a Manhattan federal judge refused to dismiss the case.
E. Rémy Martin & Co. sued in August, claiming the rapper’s liquor brand infringed patent and trade dress rights by mimicking Rémy ’s XO bottle. 50 Cent’s company, Sire Spirits, fired back in October, calling the case “meritless” and accusing the spirits company of trying to “destroy a competitor.”
But in two recent rulings – one in January and another on Tuesday (March 22) – U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein denied Sire’s motion to dismiss the case at the outset. The decisions mean 50 Cent is headed for a long legal fight, including exchanges of evidence and potentially a jury trial.
“This is not a case in which the claimed and accused designs are so plainly dissimilar that it is implausible that an ordinary observer would confuse them,” Judge Hellerstein wrote in one of the decisions.
50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, launched Branson in 2018, selling the cognac in a circular bottle with gem-like facets that was designed by the rapper himself. But on Aug. 13, Rémy Martin sued on the grounds that the bottle was “nearly indistinguishable” from the “toroidal” shape of its own famous bottle.
Rémy Martin accused the Branson bottle of infringing both design patents and trade dress – a form of trademark that covers the well-known shape or packaging of a product, like a Coca-Cola bottle or blue Tiffany’s box. The lawsuit claimed the bottle was “a blatant attempt” to make consumers think of Rémy Martin.
In October, 50 Cent and Sire fired back, blasting the rival for trying to “eliminate” an upstart competitor and “monopolize the Cognac market.” The company said Rémy Martin’s case was so weak that it should be dismissed at the outset.
“This action is a naked effort to use meritless litigation to financially destroy a competitor,” Sire’s attorneys wrote at the time. “Rémy Martin must be stopped, and the claims against Sire Spirits should not be allowed to survive.”
But in January, Judge Hellerstein ruled that the patent claim was strong enough to survive to later stages in the case. And on Tuesday, he said the same about the trade dress allegations.
“A plaintiff seeking to protect its trade dress in a line of products must articulate the design elements that compose the trade dress,” the judge wrote in a ruling that came with almost no explanation for its rationale. “Plaintiff has met this burden.”
The judge could still dismiss the case later, after both sides have exchanged evidence. Neither side’s attorneys immediately returned requests for comment on Tuesday.