Energy drinks — trademark laws don't apply?

Every industry has its trademark and trade dress issues and the beverage industry is no exception. While the “knockoff” product has been a viable strategy in many categories, the energy drink category has taken things to a whole new level with knockoffs that create confusion and, in some cases, use an IDENTICAL name to an existing product. Here are just a few of the more interesting ones:

  • Jose Canseco’s “Juiced” — The media is reporting that Jose Canseco is coming out with an energy drink called “Juiced”….Perhaps there is a part of this story that hasn’t become public yet, but “Juiced” is a name that is already being used in this category for Rockstar’s Juiced energy-juice hybrid product. You’d think that Canseco’s legal team — which must be pretty large given the accusations that he’s slinging around — would have figured this out. Just because you have a book doesn’t mean you have rights to the name in the beverage industry.
  • Two Pit Bulls — As far as the US market is concerned, the first Pit Bull was introduced by Hip Hop Beverage out of California. Then, a Florida based company imported its own Pit Bull from Europe. Just because you have rights in one country, doesn’t meant that you have rights in the US. Eventually the Florida based company changed its product name to “Spike”. Pit Bull of California is still around, but appears to be struggling, while we have no idea what became of Spike.
  • Tornado — A company in Texas puts out a product called Tornado Energy Drink…Unfortunately, another company had filed a trademark application first, despite not having an actual product to market. The result? Both parties wasted time and money that they could have spent trying to bring products to market. Neither product is, as far as we know, on the market today. Apparently, the name “Tornado” wasn’t the juggernaut that the trademark application holder thought…

The point of this is pretty simple. First, doing some basic homework (including having a simple trademark knockout search performed) will save a lot of time and money. Perhaps it would have / will save some of these companies from going under. Second, there is no name in this category that will guarantee success and, therefore, it’s simply not worth spending money to fight over one. Take a look at Red Bull, for example. It’s not a strong storm or a vicious dog and the name itself is really has no meaning. Yet, the proof is in the pudding….Just look at their sales numbers. Red Bull has done a phenomenal job creating a powerful brand and mastering the distribution of its product. Aspiring companies should take note.