Syracuse University’s legal threat forces local distillery to stop making Cuse Juice

Local News

PHOENIX, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — From Cuse-tinis to Cuse-mopolitans, the not-so-secret ingredient used at Lock 1 Distilling Company is its Cuse Juice.

“There’s really no orange liqueurs being produced at New York farm distilleries. It was a one of a kind product. So we were pretty proud of it,” Lock 1’s co-owner, Brenden Backus, tells NewsChannel 9.

The orange-flavored liqueur will be no more, once the current batch runs out.

Syracuse University is forcing the small business to stop making it, threatening legal action for use of the word “Cuse,” which its lawyers claim infringes on their trademark.

In a statement to NewsChannel 9, Sarah Scalese, Syracuse University’s senior assistant vice president for communications, says:

“Syracuse University is a proud supporter of small businesses, as demonstrated by our recent small business fair, set-aside programs for minority, women and veteran-owned businesses and hundreds of other partnerships throughout the local community each year.  As an institution of higher education with many constituents, we have an obligation to protect our brand and image. Lock 1 Distilling Company had the opportunity to continue to produce the product under a different name, but ultimately chose not to. “

Sarah Scalese
Senior Associate Vice President for Communications, Syracuse University

The word, ‘Cuse is well-associated with the Syracuse Orange, being used on basketball jerseys, the athletic department’s website, and CuseTV.

Records from the United States Patent and Trademark Office show that Syracuse University is the owner of the trademark ‘Cuse (with the apostrophe) but not Cuse (without).

The same information was found when Backus had his own layers do similar research.

Backus tells NewsChannel 9, “Syracuse University had no trademarks in the alcoholic beverage category or trademark category. They had the word ‘Cuse trademarked with an apostrophe in front of it, for clothing and apparel. So there seemed to be no conflict there.”

For extra legal protection, Backus had his label designers go as far to use the color orange with purple, instead of with blue.

Enough protections to help build a case Backus feels is strong enough to win. But, he can’t afford it.

“It comes down to dollars and cents. We don’t have the resources to fight somebody like Syracuse University. Even if we won the trademark case, they made it clear they could come after us on common law rights. So this would get dragged on and take several years to get resolved,” Backus says.

Backus says many customers have asked why he isn’t renaming the product, which was also something SU pointed out.

Backus explains that as a more difficult process than most people expect, involving a new name and new label that needs approval by the federal and state government. He says there are plenty of new projects he and his team are excited to work on.

That means all that’s left of Cuse Juice is the 300 bottles for sale at Lock 1’s tasting room in Phoenix, and a few thousand bottles spread across liquor stores and restaurants.

Records from the United States Patent and Trademark Office show that SU filed for the name ‘Cuse Juice under the fruit-flavored beverages category less than two weeks ago, around the same time it forced Lock 1 to give up the name.

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