A battle over who owns the brand name Relentless could force Coca-Cola to drop its popular energy drink after the record company behind Joss Stone and K T Tunstall launched court proceedings against the US manufacturer.
Since its arrival in 2006, Relentless has spearheaded Coca-Cola's attack on market leader Red Bull in the £1bn UK energy-drinks market. The drinks company markets it as a cool "alternative music" brand, attaching the name as a sponsor to live venues, festivals and a Kerrang! magazine heavy-rock tour. Sales of Relentless drinks soared by 28 per cent last year.
Alongside its marketing campaign, the drinks giant has employed the weight of its legal department to protect the Relentless name. A small restaurant in Portsmouth, the Relentless Steak & Lobster House, was stunned to receive a writ from Coca-Cola for breach of trademark over its sign.
But now a London record company, which has been operating under the Relentless name since 1999, has filed a High Court writ against Coca-Cola for breach of trademark.
Relentless Records, well established within the music industry, discovered stars including Stone and Scottish singer-songwriter K T Tunstall. The label is also home to folk performer Seth Lakeman and US rock band Cage the Elephant.
The label sought mediation with Coca-Cola but has now issued a writ, calling for the drinks company to stop using the Relentless name in connection with music and to pay damages for trademark infringement.
Shabs Jobanputra, Relentless Records' co-founder, said: "It is causing real confusion because Relentless drinks has a tented stage at the Reading Festival and sponsors venues like the Garage in London. Artists and managers are asking if we've been bought up by Coke. Some artists don't like that kind of corporate association."
Relentless, now an independent label after ending a partnership with EMI, is spending valuable resources on the court case. Jobanputra said: "We've been trying to resolve this for four years but their attitude is, 'Let's see how much money you've got'. They are a huge company. But it's clear that we established the Relentless brand in music, years before the drink launched."
Coca-Cola declined to comment on the record company's case, but said it has reached a deal with the Portsmouth restaurant. A spokesman said: "We requested that they redesign the font of their logo. We believed it bore a strong resemblance to our energy-drink design and that this had led to consumers thinking the two were connected.
"We have now reached an agreement with Relentless Steak & Lobster House and the logo has been changed." The restaurant will now be allowed to keep Relentless in its name, in return for redesigning the sign with a different font.
In another music-related dispute, Coca-Cola has withdrawn an attempt to trademark the term "No Half Measures" as Relentless's official slogan.
A Scottish music-management company called No Half Measures, whose clients include Wet Wet Wet, objected when Relentless launched a rock tour under the same name without its consent. The Scottish company finally established its right to the name after a 30-month battle with Coca-Cola.
Relentless this year revamped its drinks range, introducing a new design which The Grocer magazine described as "a Gothic style akin to the merchandising for the Twilight movies."
The taurine- and caffeine-packed drinks, which are currently available only in the UK, generated around £60m in sales last year.
The drinks brand's website advertises its presence in snowboarding and motorsport, "extreme sports" popular with its 18-30 target audience. The site advertises Relentless's support for alternative music genres, such as techno and metal, as well as its sponsorship of a series of branded UK "street gigs" featuring new artists.
Relentless branding will be prominent at this year's Reading and Leeds festivals and the brand is also staging a snowboarding-themed event at Battersea Power Station headlined by The Streets.
Battle of the brands
* Sales: 600,000 albums, one million singles last year
* Famous faces: KT Tunstall, below, and Joss Stone are signed to the label
* Owned by: Shabs Jobanputra and Paul Franklyn
* Promotions: £1m in adverts
* Sales: £60m last year
* Famous faces: The Streets and Guillemots have played at Relentless-sponsored festivals
* Owned by: Coca-Cola
* Promotions: Reading & Leeds Festivals, Freeze Festival, Nass Action Sports and Music FestivalReuse content