Red Bull is threatening a lawsuit against Bullards Spirits
The claim revolves around Bullards' use of the word "bull"
There have been plenty of odd legal issues over the use of certain names and words within branding. They pop up on a fairly regular basis and whilst some of the disputes are understandable, others are just downright weird. The latest of the disputes in the downright weird category is Red Bull opposing an application to register the name "Bullards" before the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO). Why? Because the name "Bullards" uses the word "bull"...
Red Bull's official reasoning is that the UK trademark "Bullards", used by Norwich-based gin producer Bullards Spirits (a 2015 revival of a historic brand which was originally founded in 1837), is too similar to Red Bull's own name and would cause confusion between the two brands. In a letter sent to Bullards Spirits, Red Bull claimed that the company was "seeking to ride on the coat-tails of [Red Bull's] famous brand." The letter also stated that "our client recognises that your client’s brand stems from a historical family business and so it has asked us to highlight that it does not want to prevent your client from doing anything it has historically done."
As a way of settling the dispute, Red Bull's legal team has requested that Bullards withdraws the trademarks it has under certain goods that may, in Red Bull's mind, cause any confusion between the two brands. This includes any trademarks Bullards has for non-alcoholic drinks (including energy drinks). The settlement would also include withdrawing any Bullards products that fall under that categorisation from sale and from being used at events.
"We don’t think there is any confusion," Bullards founder Russell Evans claimed to The Spirits Business. "They are insisting that we remove our trademark registrations for certain sectors like soft drinks, fizzy drinks, and events. My concern is that as I don’t agree there is any conflict, if I start letting them have energy drinks, I’m almost admitting there is confusion between Red Bull and Bullards." Evans has also stated that Bullards has "no intention of doing energy drinks", but is planning to launch a mixer range next year as a complement to its already existing gin range.
Evans said that he has already spent £10,000 in legal feels since the first letter was sent in February. "We now have to put our defence in by mid-October," Evans continued. "It then goes to an IPO formal hearing. They are determined to stop us doing it. It’s not the first time they’ve done it; they’ve issued legal action against a Norwich brewery. I don’t think this will go to court. They try to bully people into doing what they want."
Conversely, Red Bull has stated that it is "not appropriate to comment on a current legal matter".
Whichever way you look at it, this is a legal battle that looks pretty crazy! Hopefully, some kind of a settlement will come soon, whether it means that Bullards will have to withdraw any non-alcoholic products from sale or that Red Bull will have to concede defeat and allow Bullards to keep its trademarks for non-alcoholic drinks.