Red Bull accused of 'bullying' gin maker over brand name legal threat

Credit: Red Bull/PA

Energy drink manufacturer Red Bull has been accused of "bullying" an artisinal gin maker called Bullards by threatening legal action because its name contains the word ‘bull’.

The Norwich-based firm, which has 10 staff, received a letter from lawyers acting for Red Bull stating that there is a "likelihood of confusion on behalf of the public" as both brand names "include the term bull".

Bullards was founded in 1837, making beer and importing wine and spirits, before it was taken over by national brewery Watneys in 1963.

The Bullards name was revived in 2015, with the company focusing on gin. Austrian firm Red Bull was launched in 1987, some 150 years after Bullards first started in business.

The energy drink giant is opposing an application to register the mark Bullards before the UK Intellectual Property Office.

Bullards was founded in 1837, making beer and importing wine and spirits. Credit: PA

The letter said Red Bull is "prepared to resolve this dispute" if Bullards deletes a series of goods and services from its trademark application and registration - including energy drinks, events and non-alcoholic beverages.

Bullards said it does not want to make energy drinks, adding the claim is "ludicrous" and they are prepared to go to court.

Russell Evans, of Bullards, said he laughed when he received the letter. "What they’re claiming is ludicrous," he said.

"There is no confusion whatsoever and actually if we did concede we would be admitting there was."

He said it would cost "thousands of pounds" to remove the goods and services listed in the letter and that Red Bull are "trying to bully us".

"If needs be we’ll go to court and let’s see what a court of law has to say on it," he said.

The letter from lawyers acting for Red Bull said: "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."

But it said Red Bull is "particularly concerned about the breadth of goods and services" in Bullards’ trademark registration and application.

Mr Evans admitted: "They’re not saying we have to stop doing it (using the Bullards name) for gin."

He added, however: "They’re saying we can’t do events, we can’t do soft drinks, which we are going to do because we’re going to do tonics, we can’t do energy drinks – not that we would ever want to do energy drinks."

Russell Evans, of Bullards, said he laughed when he received the letter. Credit: PA

Mr Evans said some people have advised him to do as the letter asked as Red Bull have got "deeper pockets". "Well, I don’t think deeper pockets wins every case," he said.

It is not the first legal dispute that Red Bull has had with a Norwich firm.

In 2013, Red Bull threatened the brewery Redwell Brewing with legal action over its name, which starts with ‘Red’ and ends with ‘ll’, before apparently backing down, saying there was "no dispute".

Red Bull have been approached for comment.