Energy drinks giant Red Bull has been criticised on social media after pursuing a trademark dispute with a tiny Norwich-based brewery.
Redwell Brewery – named after a local street – received a letter from Red Bull after it tried to trademark its name. The letter said that ‘Redwell’ infringed on Red Bull’s prior UK trademark of the word ‘red’, and added: “The term ‘bull’ and the term ‘well’ share the same ending and just differ in two letters.” Consumers could be confused about the origin of the products, the letter said.
Patrick Fisher, a co-founder of the brewery, said they were shocked to receive the letter and could not believe there would be any confusion. “We didn’t know what to do. Ever since then it’s been like a grey cloud over the brewery. Red Bull have taken a strong, firm hand and have been heavily trying to restrict how we use ‘Redwell’.”
“Red Bull have taken a strong, firm hand and have been heavily trying to restrict how we use ‘Redwell’”
Patrick Fisher, Redwell
The brewery’s solicitor is now trying to reach a settlement with Red Bull by the end of the August. “If they choose to flex their financial muscle, we’re screwed, for want of a better word,” Fisher said.
News of Redwell’s case broke on social media today, with fans rallying to Redwell’s cause on Twitter and on their website, accusing Red Bull of “bullying”. “What I’ve seen about the @RedBullUK pursuit of @Redwellbeer makes me want to boycott Red Bull & buy some Redwell. Bully, bully, bully!” said one commenter.
“I would never have made any association between Red Bull and you. Good luck to you and I look forward to testing your products and not purchasing another RB again,” said another person on the brewery’s website.
In a statement to The Publican’s Morning Advertiser, Red Bull said: “There is no dispute here. Red Bull has all along been willing to allow Redwell to maintain its mark for beer so long as they do not use it for energy drinks. Redwell have agreed to this.”
Fisher confirmed that Redwell had offered not to use the name on energy drinks, but said the company had received no response to its offer from Red Bull and its solicitor had not been informed of Red Bull’s statement.
He added that he was “blown away” by the support the brewery had received. “Everyone in the brewery is just bowled over. We cannot thank everyone enough.”
Redwell launched in April, produces three lagers and two ales in kegs, and supplies independent pubs and bars nationwide. It currently turns out 5,000 pints of beer of week but is aiming to raise this to 7,500 pints a week by September, after increasing capacity, Fisher said.
Peter Bennett, head of food and a partner at Roythornes Solicitors, said companies had to take a “metered” response when pursuing trademark cases: “I think it’s fairly clear that Redwell is not trying to mimic Red Bull in any way and find it hard to imagine many would think otherwise. Redwell operates in a separate market and the name and labelling is different.
“While big brands should be protected, it’s just as important to fight the corner of up-and-coming, innovative brands who offer up something new or different to what’s already available.”