China’s Tianhe District People’s Court of Guangzhou city on May 7 ruled in favor of Thai drink maker T.C. Pharmaceutical Industries Co., Ltd. (天丝医药保健有限公司) in a lawsuit lodged by it against Guangdong Red Bull Vitamin Drink Co., Ltd. (RBVC) (广东红牛维他命饮料有限公司) and its two subsidiary companies in a lawsuit over trademark infringement and unfair competition, ordering the defendants to pay 219 million yuan ($32 million) in damages.
TCP was founded by Thai businessman Chaleo Yoovidhya in Bangkok city in the early 1960s. He developed an energy-boosting beverage that was first labeled “Red Bull” for exportation in 1976. In 1996, TCP, as the owner of all intellectual property rights to the Red Bull energy drink, set up the Foshan city, Guangdong province-based joint venture RBVC with Chinese investment company Reignwood Group to manufacture and distribute the energy drink utilizing the “Red Bull” trademarks with TCP’s authorization in China. TCP and RBVC have been embroiled in a national legal battle over the “Red Bull” trademarks and trade dress, with court cases in cities including Guangzhou, Beijing, Hangzhou, Foshan, Chongqing, and Shenzhen since the last trademark licensing agreement registered with the Trademark Office of the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) between the companies expired in 2016.
TCP in 2016 sued RBVC and its subsidiaries in the Tianhe District People’s Court for infringing the “Red Bull” trademarks and unfair competition practices for the first time.
In 2018, TCP sued RBVC in the Beijing High People’s court for infringing the “Red Bull” trademarks, seeking 3.753 billion yuan ($550 million) in damages. The court ruled for TCP and awarded it the amount requested. RBVC appealed the case to the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), which in turn upheld the lower court ruling, affirming that TCP was the owner of the “Red Bull” trademarks.
Reignwood Group, currently controlling 100% of RBVC, in January announced the newly discovered evidence the Tripartite Agreement on the Assignment of the “Bullfighting” Trademark Owned by Two Jinhua-Based Companies (《关于转让金华“斗牛”注册商标的三方协议》), which it claimed that proved that the company was the ultimate owner of the “Red Bull” trademarks in China and the 50-year assignment term it was entitled to would end in 2045. With the evidence, RBVC brought two more complaints against TCP with the Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration and the Qianhai New District People’s Court of Shenzhen city respectively over the ownership of the “Red Bull” trademarks. The Tianhe District People’s Court declared its May 7 ruling in alignment with the 2020 SPC ruling, disregarding the two pending cases filed by RBVC in Shenzhen.
RBVC and TCP have not stopped expanding their business in China despite ongoing litigation. In 2021, RBVC posted 21.8 billion yuan ($3.2 billion) of revenue, with 4% year-on-year growth, regulatory filings show.
TCP licensed Guangzhou Yao Energy Beverages Co., Ltd. (广州曜能量饮料有限公司) to work with Hebei Yangyuan Zhihui Beverage Co., Ltd. (河北养元智汇饮品股份有限公司), manufacturer of a popular Chinese drink Six Walnuts, to produce and sell the Red Bull Annaiji (pinyin of the Chinese transliteration of English word “energy”) Drink in Chinese provinces and regions to the north of the Yangtze. Yangyuan in 2021 posted 193 million yuan ($28 million) of revenue from the sales of the energy drink, with 235.66% year-on-year growth. Meanwhile, TCP began to import the Red Bull drink produced in Thailand into China by working with Shenzhen Pusheng Food Sales Co., Ltd. (深圳普盛食品销售有限公司) in late 2019.
The co-existence of three distinct “Red Bull” Drinks on the Chinese market might change with the Tianhe court ruling enjoining RBVC to cease using the “Red Bull” trademarks, though RBVC said it plans to appeal the case.
The case docket no. is （2016）粤0106民初15728号, whose English transliteration is 15728, first instance (初), civil case (民), (2016) Tianhe District People’s Court of Guangzhou City (（2016）粤0106).