GORD WALDNER/Saskatoon StarPhoenixLB Distillers co-owner Cary Bowman holds two bottles of Lucky Bastard vodka. The federal trademark office deemed the name "obscene" and "scandalous."
A Saskatoon company’s attempt to trademark its flagship vodka has turned into a four-year battle with the federal government over the definition of “bastard.”
In 2011, LB Distillers applied to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) to register “Lucky Bastard vodka” as a trademark. About eight months later, the agency responsible for trademarks, patents and copyright replied.
“The examiner came back and said it was immoral, scandalous and obscene, and that the general population of Canada would agree that it was an immoral name,” LB Distillers co-owner Cary Bowman said.
The micro-distillery’s appeal was rejected in 2012, but the company persisted, filing a separate application to register “Lucky Bastard.”
On Oct. 8, CIPO sent a letter to LB Distillers stating that it “does not appear registrable” because it violates the Canadian Trade-marks Act, which prohibits trademarks that include “any scandalous, obscene or immoral word or device.”
The letter includes an extract from the Collins English Dictionary defining “bastard” as “informal” and “offensive.”
CIPO objected based on the traditional definition of the word — a child born out of wedlock — and refused to acknowledge either that it is now common for unmarried people to have children, or the widely-accepted meaning of “Lucky Bastard,” Bowman said.
The name alludes to LB Distillers founders Michael Goldney and Lacey Crocker, who won a $14.6 million Lotto 6/49 jackpot in 2006.
Bowman is also concerned that the law is not being applied consistently.
A search of the trademark database reveals several containing the word “bastard” — including Fat Bastard wine, he noted. The situation amounts to one examiner applying his or her views to the process, he said.
“When it’s one person who’s deciding the fate of something like that, and they’re basing it maybe on their own morals as opposed to anybody else’s, and yet calling it everybody else’s, that’s quite unfair.”
The federal agency declined an interview request but provided an emailed statement.
When it’s one person who’s deciding the fate of something like that, and they’re basing it maybe on their own morals as opposed to anybody else’s, and yet calling it everybody else’s, that’s quite unfair
“Trade-mark examiners analyse (sic) the application and research the meanings of words comprising the mark. An objection is raised if the examiner considers that the trade-mark is not registrable,” the statement said.
“The examiner relied on the definition of the word bastard as found in the The Collins English Dictionary. Following written submission from the applicant, a subsequent report was issued on December 9, 2015 wherein the initial objection was maintained.”
The dispute has cost LB Distillers about $5,000 in legal fees, but the company plans to pursue the matter, Bowman said.
“Bastard” was for centuries a legal term related to the division of property between male children, according to the head of the University of Saskatchewan’s department of linguistics and religious studies.
The English-speaking world’s emphasis on marriage transformed “bastard” into an offensive term, one used to “express extreme emotion,” but changing values have tempered its meaning significantly, Veronika Makarova said.
“It’s still emotive, but it is on the verge of a boundary,” Makarova said. “‘Bastard’ is just a slightly more expressive version of (the) slang expression ‘dude.’ ”
This is not the first time the micro-distillery’s name has been rejected. In 2010, the company was forced to register as LB Distillers instead of Lucky Bastard Distillers.