Virginia brewery calls Red Bull a ‘big Red Bully’ in on-going drink dispute

Posted at 4:51 PM, Feb 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-10 00:00:31-05

ASHBURN, Va. -- A Virginia brewery is calling BS on energy drink maker Red Bull's claim that customers might confuse Old Ox Brewery's name and logo with that of Red Bull. Old Ox Brewery president Chris Burns said he first heard from Red Bull's lawyers last spring, before his brewery ever poured its first beer.

"They said they had concerns about about a temporary slogan we posted on a temporary website --  'no bull beer,' Burns said. "It was no big deal because we were taking it down anyway.  By the time we launched our permanent website we had changed the logo, our slogan and our brand."

Chris Burns at Old Ox Brewery (PHOTO: Paul Miller)

Chris Burns at Old Ox Brewery (PHOTO: Paul Miller)

Burns said he hired an intellectual property attorney prior to opening his business to make sure there would be no issues with the brewery's name and logo. He said he mainly wanted to make his name did not "step on the toes" of fellow brewers.

"We felt confident there would not be a concern," Burns said. But there was concern -- from Red Bull.

A tour of Old Ox Brewery

A tour of Old Ox Brewery

According to a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, some of those concerned included:

  • An “ox” and a “bull” both fall within the same class of “bovine” animals and are virtually indistinguishable to most consumers. In addition, an ox is a castrated bull.
  • Based upon conversations with Mr. Graham Burns, Chief Financial Officer for Old Ox Brewery, LLC, Applicant intends to use its name and logos on other Class 32 beverages, 4 namely soft drinks for non-beer drinkers, thereby acknowledging the link and similarity between all beverages in Class 32.
  • Applicant’s OLD OX Marks so resemble Opposer Red Bull’s RED BULL and Bull Logo Marks as to be likely, when applied to the goods of Appln. Nos. 86/269,626 and 86/269,577, to cause confusion, mistake or deception among purchasers, users and the public, thereby damaging Red Bull.

The law firm handling this case had no comment when reached over the phone. Red Bull has not yet responded to questions submitted via email. Burns said he was confused as to why Red Bull would even have an issue with Old Ox Brewery.

"We're not looking to highlight to bovine nature of the name. We're named after a road!" Burns said.

In order to drop its opposition to the brewery's name and logo, Burns said Red Bull told him to sign an agreement. He highlighted the terms of the agreement in a letter posted on the Old Ox Brewery website.

Basically you are holding us hostage with a list of demands that, if agreed to, would severely limit our ability to use our brand. Demands like, never use the color red, silver or blue; never use red with any bovine term or image; and never produce soft drinks. Do you own the color red? What about fuchsia, scarlet, crimson, or mauve? Are you planting your flag in the color wheel and claiming those shades for Red Bull? Do you claim exclusive rights to all things bovine? Do you plan to herd all heifers, cows, yaks, buffalo, bison, and steer into your intellectual property corral, too?

When we refused to succumb to your demands, you responded by filing a formal opposition to not just our trademark but to the very name Old Ox Brewery. Way to step on our American dream. You say you are protecting your intellectual property rights, but your claim, in our opinion, is Red Bulls**t.

"We see this legal action as frivolous," Burns said. "There's no confusing an energy drink and a beer. They're on complete opposite ends of the spectrum."

Burns' open letter continued:

We can only interpret your actions as one thing—bullying. You are a big Red Bully. Just like that mean kid from grade school pushing everyone down on the playground and giving us post-gym class wedgies. You are giving us one hell of a corporate wedgie. We don’t appreciate it and we sure as hell don’t deserve it.

Is this really what you’re about? Are you a bully? Your extensive marketing campaigns (your glitzy advertising, your sponsored sports events, your death defying stunt shows, etc.) certainly don’t project that image. Take a hard look at your “case.” Can you honestly look at our brand and say, “this is a threat to my image?” We don’t think you can. Given that, we repeat our offer: We agree NEVER to produce energy drinks. In exchange, we are asking for one simple thing: Leave us alone. Drop this trademark dispute. The only people benefiting are the lawyers.