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Originally published February 18, 2009 at 11:26 AM | Page modified February 19, 2009 at 8:51 AM

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Judge orders Hendrix Vodka pulled from shelves, $3.2 million settlement

The makers of a specialty vodka named after famed rocker Jimi Hendrix have been ordered by a federal judge in Seattle to pay $3.2 million in damages for infringing on trademarks and licensing rights owned by the late guitarist's estate.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The makers of a specialty vodka named after famed Seattle rocker Jimi Hendrix have been ordered by a federal judge in Seattle to pay $3.2 million in damages for infringing on trademarks and licensing rights owned by the late guitarist's estate.

The judgment ends a bitter legal battle that was sparked after local businessman and developer Craig Dieffenbach and Hendrix's half-brother, Leon Hendrix, began marketing Electric Hendrix Vodka in 2005. In addition to the family name, the purple-tinged bottles also bore "an older" image of Jimi Hendrix with a large Afro.

Bottles of Electric Hendrix Vodka must also immediately be pulled from liquor-store shelves and all advertising and marketing of the spirit must cease, according to the permanent injunction that was issued by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly on Feb. 12. He gave the vodka company 10 days to comply with the order.

In his ruling, Zilly permanently barred Electric Hendrix from commercially using, advertising or challenging the trademarks and logos controlled by Experience Hendrix and Authentic Hendrix, two companies owned by the Hendrix estate. Zilly also barred the vodka company from registering identical or "confusingly similar" trademarks to those owned by the estate, according to court documents.

Zilly initially ruled in the estate's favor in October, but Dieffenbach filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, court documents say. The two sides entered a settlement agreement in December, and Dieffenbach's appeal was voluntarily dismissed. The matter returned to Zilly's court, where he issued a permanent injunction and awarded $3.2 million in damages.

The lawsuit, filed in 2007, ends another battle in a long, bitterly fought dispute between different factions of the Hendrix family over the estate.

Because Jimi died without a will, his estate went to his father, Al Hendrix.

Janie Hendrix inherited control of the guitarist's estate when Al Hendrix, her adoptive father, died in 2002. Leon Hendrix, who was cut out of the will by his father who apparently grew tired of his requests for money, took Janie to court in 2004 for a cut of the $80 million estate. Dieffenbach funded Leon's court battle.

A King County Superior Court judge ultimately denied Leon's claim — but also removed Janie, who inherited the bulk of the estate, as trustee for some other beneficiaries because she violated her financial responsibilities to them.

Last week's court ruling was more clear-cut and Janie Hendrix claimed a legal victory in a news release issued by her Los Angeles publicist.

"Mr. Dieffenbach has been held accountable for his unlawful actions and prohibited from ever again infringing [on] our Jimi Hendrix trademarks," Janie Hendrix, CEO of Experience Hendrix, said in the release. "This judgment recognizes our family's long-standing commitment to preserve the Jimi Hendrix legacy and artistic vision."

When the lawsuit over Electric Hendrix Vodka was first filed, Dieffenbach told The Seattle Times that partying, clubbing and drinking vodka was an excellent way to honor the spirit of Jimi Hendrix. But Janie Hendrix countered that using the rocker's image to sell alcohol amounted to a "sick joke."

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Jimi Hendrix was drinking and using drugs when he choked on his own vomit and died in London in 1970.

Information from The Seattle Times archive is included in this report.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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