A number of Seattle bartenders have joined a national Facebook group calling for a boycott on Pusser’s, a rum from the British Virgin Islands.
The company holds two U.S. trademarks on the name Painkiller. The first is for "alcoholic fruit drinks with fruit juices and cream of coconut and coconut juice," the second for "non-alcoholic mixed fruit juices."
The latter is marketed as Pusser’s Painkiller Cocktail Mix, according to a recent article on the website The Lo-Down.
Giuseppe Gonzalez and Richard Boccato opened the cocktail spot Painkiller on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in May 2010. From the moment the tiki bar opened, Pusser’s began threatening legal action, according to this Atlantic.Com article from August 2010. (The same article prompted me to call a local copyright lawyer and try to sort through the legality of such things.) Painkiller also featured a Painkiller cocktail on the menu, and it did not list Pusser’s rum as an ingredient, calling instead for a "blend of Virgin Island rum."
Lo-Down says that in April, Pusser’s "demanded that the bar stop calling itself and any of its drinks by the name Painkiller." And in mid-May both parties signed a consent agreement stipulating that Painkiller would change its name to PKNY and that it would stop using the word on its menu.
The bar will also have to turn over its website—if you type the URL www.painkillernyc.com into your browser bar, you will now be directed to www.pk-ny.com.
Jim Romdall of Rob Roy is one of the local bartenders boycotting Pusser’s in response to the distillery’s action. He says many of his colleagues are anti-trademarking. "None of us feel like you should be able to copyright the recipe of a cocktail nor the name of a cocktail. That’s like Ragu trying to copyright ‘Bolognese.’"
"What seems wrong to me is for them to force a cease and desist on a bar that doesn’t directly infringe on those two products," says Mike McSorley of Tini Bigs, who is also boycotting Pusser’s. "It sets a bad precedent."
So what effect can a boycott have?
"Pusser’s isn’t exactly a huge brand, they’re not Bacardi," says Romdall. "Our nerdy cocktail community is not large, and a big brand that offends us isn’t going to be harmed too much. But Pusser’s appeals to a small community, and I think this will have a very large impact on their sales, at least in the U.S. I feel like over the past year that Painkiller has been open, a huge new audience for their rum and that drink has been created. Flexing their muscle and forcing a place to change their name is a pretty big insult. I feel like we’re about to see what social media and the bartender community can do."