Red Bull loses legal battle against Bullards

English distiller Bullards Spirits has won a trademark lawsuit against Red Bull over its use of the word ‘bull’.

Energy drink maker Red Bull first launched a trademark dispute against gin producer Bullards Spirits in September last year through the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

In February 2021, Austrian soft drinks giant Red Bull sent a letter to Bullards’ lawyer alleging the UK trademark ‘Bullards’ is similar to the ‘Redbull’ trademark because both words contain the word ‘bull’ and would likely cause public confusion.

In order to settle the dispute, Red Bull’s legal team requested that Bullards withdraws its trademark under certain goods, including non-alcoholic beverages such as energy drinks and from being used at events.

However, the Norwich-based distiller said it had secured victory against Red Bull after senior hearing officer Allan James ruled in favour of Bullards. The IPO’s decision rejected Red Bull’s claim that Bullards had chosen the name to take advantage of its reputation.

Luke Portnow, trademark attorney for Bullards, said: “We stood firm that Bullards and Red Bull are of such different trade, no amount of reputation in energy drinks was enough to prevent use and registration here.

“The ruling confirms the mere fact that because the two marks share a common element, is not a proper basis on which to base a finding of indirect confusion.”

Portnow said Red Bull’s move was “legally and financially unfair”, and added: “It pains me that such unnecessarily aggressive (and expensive) enforcement practices continue in this field of law.”

In a statement, Red Bull said: “We do not believe it appropriate to comment on such a legal matter.”

Bullards was founded by Richard Bullard in 1837 as a producer of beer and an importer of wines and spirits. Together with the original founder’s family, Russell Evans revived the Bullards name in 2015 with an emphasis on gin, establishing a distillery in the centre of Norwich.

The spirits producer said Red Bull’s action was a ‘huge shock’ that could have been ‘terminal’ for the business.

John Bullard, great-great-grandson of Richard Bullard, said: “I am proud of the team, and what we have achieved and am grateful that we can continue doing what we do best, providing quality and tasteful products for our customers.

“Allan James’s ruling should serve as a salutary reminder that young enterprises can, and should, stand up against large corporations in a heavy-handed and aggressive landscape. Hopefully giving confidence to other ‘Davids’ facing ‘Goliaths’.”

The deadline to appeal the decision is 22 November.

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Author: Nicola Carruthers