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Outlander star’s whisky brand in trademark dispute with German distiller

Scottish actor Sam Heughan, who stars in historical drama series Outlander, is appealing a ruling against his whisky brand after a German distiller successfully opposed his European trademark application.

Image: Sassenach Spirits

As reported by The Times, Heughan was applying to register the trademark for his whisky brand The Sassenach so that it could be sold across Europe.

However, the move by Heughan’s firm The Great Glen Company was opposed by the Sasse distillery in Schoppingen.

According to official documents, the German distiller claimed that the term ‘Sassenach’ was too similar to its registered trademark ‘Sasse’, thus creating a likelihood of consumer confusion.

In its decision, the European Union Intellectual Property Office refused to approve Heughan’s trademark application and sided with the Sasse distillery. The Great Glen Company argued that the whisky’s name was a Gaelic term once used, often disparagingly, to refer to someone from England or the Scottish lowlands. The term is also used in the Outlander series as a nickname that Heughan’s character uses for his love interest Claire.

However the EUIPO found that the two trademarks were visually and aurally similar “to an average degree”.

It noted: “It should be also borne in mind that the relevant goods are beverages and, since these are frequently ordered in noisy establishments (bars, nightclubs), the phonetic similarity between the signs is particularly relevant.”

It dismissed claims that American TV show Outlander was well-known in Germany due lack of evidence presented, and also ruled that the German audience wouldn’t be familiar with the term’s other meaning.

The EUIPO concluded there there was a likelihood of confusion.

It stated: “It cannot be safely excluded that the relevant consumer will perceive the contested mark as a sub-brand, a variation of the earlier marks, configured in a different way according to the type of goods or services that it designates. The relevant consumer could perceive ‘The Sassenach’ at least as a variation of the earlier marks, maybe aimed at English speakers or the English-speaking market, due to the presence of the English article ‘The’.”

The Great Glen Company has now launched an appeal. However lawyers for the Sasse distillery told The Times: “The television series may be as popular as the other side claims, which we deny, nonetheless it is not sufficient to assume that the average consumer knows the meaning of that term.”

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