UEA law expert predicts battle ahead for Bullards in Red Bull feud

Dr Nick Scharf from the UEA has shared his thoughts on the Bullards and Red Bull saga 

Dr Nick Scharf from the UEA has shared his thoughts on the Bullards and Red Bull saga - Credit: Archant/Submitted

A law expert believes the key to success in a David-versus-Goliath dispute between a global energy drink company and an historic Norwich gin firm is negotiations. 

Red Bull has increased its threat to Bullards accusing the 19th century city brand of "creating a conflict of interest" due to an alleged name clash. 

The fizzy drink giant has recently demanded Bullards must not produce soft drinks as part of a list products they believe would cause a conflict.

Russell Evans, left, founder of Bullards, and John Bullard, crush Red Bull cans as Red Bull are accu

Russell Evans, left, founder of Bullards Spirits, and family shareholder John Bullard, crush Red Bull cans as Red Bull are accusing Bullards of a conflict of interest with the brand names - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

But plucky Bullards bosses have vowed not to back down to what they believe to be "corporate bullying".

However Dr Nick Scharf, an associate professor of intellectual property law at the University of East Anglia law school, said Bullards could face an "uphill battle" in court.

"I do not want to be Mr Unpopular Opinion but I would not bet the mortgage on Bullards being successful with the soft drinks put it that way," Dr Scharf said.

"It would ideally be resolved through negotiations if Bullards is absolutely desperate to start selling soft drinks. They would have to think how that would be branded.

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"Red Bull probably holds most of the cards here and it is very important for Bullards to try to engage with it as much as possible."

Dr Nick Scharf, an associate professor of intellectual property law at the University of East Anglia law school

Dr Nick Scharf, an associate professor of intellectual property law at the University of East Anglia law school - Credit: Nick Scharf

The professor referred to Red Bull successfully appealing against a trademark registration for ‘BULLDOG’ in 2015 before the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Red Bull also reached a settlement with Bracondale craft brewery Redwell in 2013 in which the latter agreed not to use its name for energy drinks.

Dr Scharf said the dispute comes down to whether the trademarks would create consumer confusion.

He believes Bullards' main sticking point would be soft drinks rather than gin.

"The greater the reputation and distinction of trademarks the greater the level of confusion," Dr Scharf said. 

"The value of the Red Bull trademark is immense and the way they are trying to maintain that could be viewed as clumsy or overly aggressive but they are not doing anything illegal. 

"Both parties can easily and freely enter into some form of trademark agreement like Redwells. It often happens in the corporate world to avoid any confusion."

The story so far

Bullards first went public through the Evening News in September with news of Red Bull's letter claiming there was a "conflict of interest".

The Norwich gin company has not backed down against the Austrian company from the word go pointing out the fact it has been prominent in Norwich for more than 180 years.

Meanwhile the Austrian company has only existed for 35 years. 

The gin company was given seven days by Red Bull's solicitor to sign and resolve the matter - but the Norwich bosses refused. 

Russell Evans, founder of Bullards, with the marked trade mark registrations that Red Bull want Bull

Russell Evans, founder of Bullards Spirits, with the marked trade mark registrations that Red Bull want Bullards to relinquish at their own cost. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

And since then the global company has increased its threat with soft drinks being added to the list since Bullards told the Evening News about the feud. 

A court date has not been set at this stage.

Red Bull has said it does not believe it is appropriate to comment on a current legal case.