Trademark Defense: Seeing Red (Bull!)

Red Bull and Old Ox

Image courtesy of Washington Post

Red Bull has picked a trademark fight over the name of a little Virginia Brewery called Old Ox. What’s at stake?

A trademark is a legally sanctioned designation, such as a name, picture (in the form of a logo) or other device, that helps consumers associate a producer with a product. Trademark laws protect consumers as well as producers by helping to avoid confusion in the marketplace. Can you imagine the chaos there would be if anyone were allowed to use the name McDonalds to sell hamburgers, or anyone who wanted to sell automobiles could slap the name “Lexus” on their cars?

This Red Bull — Old Ox dispute shows the enormous importance of a having and protecting a trademark. While I view this particular complaint as over the top, I don’t want anyone to get the impression that trademarks should be ignored. The value wrapped up in a trademark can be worth billions of dollars. 

But that kind of value can be built up in a trademark only through aggressive brand management. Such management includes promotion through marketing and licensing or franchising a trademark. And it includes a vigorous defense of the trademark against would-be infringers who try to capture some of the goodwill the trademark owner has built up in the association of the trademark with its products.

But “vigorous defense” of a trademark is a two-edged sword. If done wrong, some defenses could actually damage a brand.

You may well ask whether Red Bull’s “vigorous defense” of its trademark will cause such damage to the Red Bull brand. Is Old Ox really trading on the goodwill of Red Bull? How many consumers are going to confuse a brewery named Old Ox with an energy drink made by a company called Red Bull? Is Red Bull doing themselves a favor here? Is this lawsuit the type of management that adds value to their brand, or are more people going to be turned off by this newly revealed nature of the company to the point that this behavior will hurt their sales?

No matter what you think of Red Bull’s behavior here, you cannot deny the facts that trademark law is necessary to protect consumers and producers, and a well-managed trademark can hold extraordinary value for a company.

If you have not registered a trademark for the name of your company or its primary products, you might consider whether now is the time to do so. Or if you have recently learned that someone else is using your name or logo to promote products similar to yours, you should consider how defending your good name is good brand management. To learn more about trademark law and how it can benefit your company, contact Argent Place Law for a chat about how the law firm can help you capture and defend the value added to your company by trademarks.

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