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X-Men: The Last Stand director Brett Ratner has a plan to bring some Hollywood to the lucrative business of high-end whiskey. But first, he’s got to take care of a Kentucky-based bourbon maker wishing to empty his cup.
On Thursday, Ratner filed a lawsuit in California federal court against Heaven Hill Distilleries.
Ratner owns the Beverly Hills residence known as Hilhaven Lodge, which was once owned by Ingrid Bergman, once controlled by Grease producer Allan Carr and whose guests have included movie-industry luminaries, Victoria’s Secret models and Hillary Clinton. Sensing opportunity, Ratner wants to get into the red-hot industry of high spirits and has been in negotiations for a licensing deal with Diageo North America to leverage the Hilhaven Lodge, which has been written up by Elle Decor and also called cursed in this Hollywood Reporter story.
The coming launch of the Hilhaven whiskey was announced on a Diageo call with investment analysts in December. The marketing plan is to “associate the product with the heritage of the Hollywood of the 1920s and 1930s, and promote the Brand’s origination with Hilhaven Lodge and the glamour it represents.”
After the investor call, Heaven Hill Distilleries sent a cease and desist letter, remarking that the name was “much too similar” to its own and would “inevitably create a likelihood of confusion in the marketplace, thereby infringing Heaven Hill’s rights in its Heaven Hill mark.”
But if the Kentucky company has a trademark claim, Ratner’s lawyers want to know why their lawyers didn’t object when Ratner filed Hilhaven Lodge trademark applications in 2012 to cover, among other things, alcoholic beverages except beer. According to Ratner’s lawsuit, the defendant has regularly filed notices of oppositions in the past 20 years, which seems to be an indication that they regularly monitor when proposed trademarks are published for review.
With no objection at the trademark office, an examiner granted Ratner his trademark.
Ratner’s lawyers responded to the initial threat by bringing up that trademark and “the history behind the Brand,” but the Kentucky company wasn’t moved. A second cease and desist letter came on January 26.
“It was only when the relationship with Diageo became public that Defendant determined to assert trademark infringement, indicating that HHD is seeking to insulate itself from competition, not avoid consumer confusion,” states the lawsuit filed on behalf of Ratner by Jason Russell at Skadden, Arps. “Plaintiff therefore brings this lawsuit in order to remove the cloud cast over Plaintiff’s Marks and Brand by Defendant’s allegations of infringement so that Plaintiff can proceed with his plans to develop and launch the Brand and the Branded whiskey product.”
Ratner, whose credits include Rush Hour and Tower Heist, is currently at work preparing Beverly Hills Cop 4. He’s also represented by Skadden Arps attorney David Eisman.
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