[Story updated below]
Curious trademark battle brewing in England. According to a report in The Frontier Post, energy drink company Red Bull has told Redwell Brewery, a microbrewery in Norfolk that it must change its name or face legal action as Red Bull believes the Redwell name is too similar. We quote the article:
Redwell brewery, which employs just eight people in Norwich, has been told by the firm its name could “confuse” customers and “tarnish” its trademark.
Company owner Patrick Fisher said he was “shocked” by Red Bull’s letter and has sought legal advice.
Mr. Fisher said the brewery started up earlier this year and problems began days after it went to trademark its brand, which is named after Redwell Street in Norwich city centre.
At first glance, Red Bull’s action might seem a bit dramatic and maybe unreasonable, as the names seem different enough and the two brands are in different beverage categories. It is also easy to side with a small craft producer in a dispute with a giant, name-brand corporation. Opinions aside, be sure to recall some of the important notes in our trademark panel coverage from this year’s Craft Brewers Conference in March, “Craft beer trademark, copyright tips: Keep your brand free from disputes”:
You also have to consider the meaning of the design. For example, if the image is a black cat, you have to search for “black cat” brands or trademarks, not just the image, as there could be a potential issue there.
Searches need to expand beyond the beer category these days as well. Traphagen said he’s seen a fair amount of disputes come from outside the beer category — from soft drinks and energy drinks and flavored teas. This wasn’t always the case, and it’s not so much that the law has changed, but just more and more companies are challenging and more courts are agreeing.
“It is more willingness by owners to assert rights across categories and more willingness from courts to see that overlap,” Traphagen said.
These are just concerns, though — things to consider and be careful about. It’s not a black or white issue in many of these cases. It is essentially up to the court to determine if there is a reasonable confusion between cross-segment trademarks in order to justify the action.
Not all of this trademark talk is about making sure you are safe; it’s also about standing your ground. Do you see other brands infringing on your trademarks and copyright? Traphagen emphasized not just preventing exact duplicates, but also designs or slogans that might confuse customers into associating it with your brand. Over time, if other brands continue to crowd your trademark, your brand could erode, and you could potentially lose your enforcement power — unlikely, but possible.
This news story (like the Magic Hat, West Sixth story ICYMI), whatever the outcome, is another friendly reminder about the real gray areas in trademark/copyright laws, the potential challenges that exist and the importance of settling your own marks as early as possible.
BBC News reports that Red Bull’s dispute with Redwell Brewery has ended. The key point of the settlement was Redwell Brewery promising that its brand would never cross into energy drinks.
A Red Bull spokesman said: “There is no dispute here.
“Red Bull has long been willing to allow Redwell to maintain its mark for beer so long as they do not use it for energy drinks.”
Jacqui Tolson, senior trademark attorney working on behalf of Redwell, said: “We’ve managed to negotiate a possible settlement which is now on the table, so it’s a good commercial solution for both parties.