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Old Ox Brewery and Red Bull in Spat Over Bovine Trademarks

Yesterday, Old Ox Brewery President Chris Burns released an open letter to Red Bull over a complaint the energy drink producer filed about the brewery's trademarks. This was the big news story yesterday, and you no doubt may have heard about it, but just in case you didn't, here's a bunch of coverage of it. The Washingtonian's Benjamin Freed has a must-read interview with Chris Burns. Meanwhile, The Washington Post's Fritz Hahn's coverage is here. John Holl of All About Beer posted here, and the comments section on the article is a pretty rich read. A petition has already popped up on Change.org (it's not, as far as I can tell, affiliated with the brewery) asking Red Bull to drop the complaint.

What's all this about exactly? Mostly it's about the difference between a bull and an ox and whether consumers can tell the difference between them. Who knew that there's an entire website devoted to telling the difference between two things? Even more odd than this lawsuit is that it wasn't the only one involving an area interest yesterday.

In any event, here's the letter penned by Burns. Have thoughts on it? Let us know in the comments or via Twitter!

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

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