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Red Bull opposes craft brewery's use of 'ox' in name

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Red Bull is challenging Old Ox Brewery's use of 'ox' in its name. (Old Ox Brewery)

The maker of Red Bull energy drinks is challenging a Virginia craft brewery’s use of the word “ox” in its brand name.

Red Bull has filed an opposition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office against trademark applications from Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, Virginia.

The small craft brewery that opened in the northern Virginia suburb in late June 2014. It’s on track to produce about 4,000 kegs of beer by the end of the year and distributes only in a small portion of the state.

Red Bull contends the brewery’s use of ox is likely to cause customer confusion because an ox and a bull are both considered bovine animals and are virtually indistinguishable to most consumers.

In a letter sent to Red Bull by Old Ox Brewery president Chris Burns, he accuses the Austrian drink maker of “holding us hostage” with a list of demands that, if agreed to, “would severely limit our ability to use our brand.”

They include never using 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?” he writes. “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?”

“You are a big Red Bully,” continues the letter. “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.”

We reached out to Red Bull seeking comment.

Have look at the entire text of the Old Ox letter below. 

Hey Red Bull –

You seem pretty cool. You sponsor snowboarders, adventure racers, rock climbers and motocross bikers. You launch people into space so that they can skydive back down to earth. That’s all really darn cool. For all I know, you’re reading this while strapping yourself into a Formula One racecar that is about to be lit on fire and jumped over a large chasm of some sort. How cool would that be? Feel free to give it a try.

Here’s the thing, though. You are being extremely uncool to us at Old Ox Brewery. We are a small startup brewery in Ashburn, Virginia. We’re family-run, we love beer, and we love our community. For reasons that we cannot understand, you have attempted to strong arm us into changing our identity for the last 10 months because you believe folks might mistake Old Ox beer for Red Bull energy drinks. We respectfully disagree. The only similarity between our two products is that they are both liquids. You make non-alcoholic (but very extreme) energy drinks. We make delicious (but laid-back) beer. Our consumers are looking for two distinctly different experiences from our respective products.
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 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.

Sincerely and Uninfringingly Yours,
Chris Burns
President – Old Ox Brewery

The Associated Press contributed to this report.