30 April 2018Trademarks

Red Bull goes after grey market goods

Austria-based energy drinks company Red Bull has taken on a wholesale distributor in Washington, DC, over the alleged importation of grey market goods.

Red Bull accused Capitol Cash & Carry of importing Red Bull drinks made for the South African market in a trademark infringement claim (pdf) filed at the US District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday, April 27.

“Grey market Red Bull energy drink is tailored to specific geographic regions or countries to reflect differences in terms of language, government regulations, and units of measurement, among other things,” said the claim.

The South African cans are “materially different” to US cans, said Red Bull.

For example, the South African cans feature nutritional information in a way that doesn’t comply with Food and Drug Administration requirements, presents the expiration date in a manner that “US consumers are not familiar with” and features English spelling rather than American English.

“These acts have caused or are likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception as to the source of origin, sponsorship or approval of the grey market Red Bull energy drink Capitol sells in that purchasers and others are likely to believe Red Bull authorises and controls Capitol’s sale,” it added.

Capitol Cash & Carry has allegedly infringed a range of Red Bull’s trademarks, including its logo which features the words ‘Red Bull’ and two bulls.

Red Bull is seeking an order enjoining the distributor from selling the grey market goods. It has also asked for an account of profits and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

According to the Austrian company, the US International Trade Commission has previously issued a general exclusion order barring the importation of all grey market Red Bull drinks, irrespective of the identity of the importer.

Red Bull entered the US market in 1996. Between 2005 and 2017, the company sold more than 16.7 billion units of the Red Bull energy drink in the country, with more than 1.5 billion units being sold in 2017 alone.

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More on this story

30 November 2017   A trademark consisting of the mere juxtaposition of two colours, without a systematic arrangement, is not sufficiently precise and uniform to be valid, the EU General Court has ruled in a case concerning the Red Bull blue/silver mark.
17 August 2018   Red Bull has accused a wholesaler of distributing energy drinks in the US that were intended for sale in South Africa, in violation of the US Food and Drug Administration requirements and Red Bull’s trademark rights.
22 January 2019   Red Bull has taken legal action against a US gas station for its unauthorised sales of grey market Red Bull energy drinks.