It’s been a while since the last high profile case of trademark bullying, but like the bullies most of us encountered in the schoolyard, absence doesn’t mean they’ve departed the scene; rather, they’re lying in wait for the next opportune moment, or the next small business that can’t afford to push back against the rather absurd assertions made by a global brand about how their business will be damaged by a shop with a handful of employees and a customer base that doesn’t stretch beyond the county line.
The latest instance takes us to East Anglia, as a gin maker based in Norwich finds itself as the target of trademark opposition from energy drink maker and sporting dilettante Red Bull. From the BBC comes the story of Bullards, a small firm that has come up against opposition from Red Bull for its trademark filing with the UK Intellectual Property Office. Per the reporting, Red Bull isn’t opposed to the trademark across the board; rather, its opposition is limited to Bullards filing as it relates to energy drinks and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as events.
As you might have guessed by now, Red Bull believes that there will be confusion in the marketplace with two potential energy drinks that contain the word “Bull” in the title. That assertion runs into a few issues as you try it on for size: Bullards representative Russell Evans notes in the BBC article that the company has no plans to get into the energy drink space as a purveyor of alcohol, and setting that aside, the branding of Bullards has absolutely nothing to do with bulls, and instead seems to be leaving into anchors.
There doesn’t seem to be much sense to Red Bull’s opposition on its face; even if Bullards were to improbably get into the energy drink business, it’s hard to imagine the customer that would see a can labeled Bullards, likely with an anchor on the packaging, and think that they’re buying the latest offering from Red Bull. But sense has little to do within it, as always; the BBC report also notes that Red Bull opposed a trademark filing from Redwall Brewery, also in Norwich, over its name using the word “red” and ending in a “-ll”. (Perhaps Red Bull are secret Ipswich Town fans?)
It’s hard to imagine that these are good faith concerns on the part of Red Bull, which is a shame for all of the businesses that have been or could be targeted for trademark opposition, all of them seemingly located in the greater Norwich area. A perfunctory opposition simply as a rote measure on the part of Red Bull can be a damaging or even cataclysmic event of small businesses that don’t have the thousands or tens of thousands of pounds to launch a defense. That it doesn’t register with Red Bull or other companies like it or, worse, they simply don’t care speaks to one of the major problems in IP law at the moment.