UK: Heineken to challenge Richard Branson’s 50-year-old Virgin brand

As a preemptive measure to launch a non-alcoholic versions of its successful tequila beer Desperados in the U.K., Heineken has asked to invalidate a trademark of Virgin Enterprises for a beer that was sold on trains its Virgin Trains. If successful, Virgin will lose the exclusive use of the trademark and Heineken is free to enter the market with Desperados Virgin 0.0%.

In January 2021, Heineken launched the product in more than 50 countries but omitted the UK because of trademark issues. However, as the product proved successful in other markets, Heineken now intends to replicate the success in the UK and needs to clarify the status of the brand.

Virgin Enterprises has now asked a High Court judge to reject a Heineken’s invalidation bid. “Virgin is seeking a definitive resolution following Heineken’s challenge to the Virgin brand over the use of the word ‘virgin’ on Heineken’s non-alcoholic beers,” a Virgin Group spokesperson said. “The Virgin brand has stood the test of time and with Virgin Wines as part of the Virgin family today and [having] new possibilities for the future, we have taken action to protect our rights and minimize the risk of confusion in the market and the damage to our brand.”

The Virgin brand was born in 1970 when Richard Branson (72), today a British billionaire, entrepreneur, and business magnate, and a friend launched a mail order record business and chose the name Virgin, because they were entirely new to business. 1972, Branson opened a chain of record stores, Virgin Records—later known as Virgin Megastores. Branson's Virgin brand grew rapidly during the 1980s, as he started Virgin Atlantic airline and expanded the Virgin Records music label. In 1997, Branson founded the Virgin Rail Group to bid for passenger rail franchises during the privatization of British Rail. In 2004, he founded spaceflight corporation Virgin Galactic, based at Mojave Air and Space Port in California, noted for the SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane designed for space tourism.

It’s not the first time that Desperados is involved in trademark issues. In 2017, the Tequila Regulatory Council claimed that Tequila is a protected designation of origin (PDO), just like French Champagne or Bavarian Beer and may only be produced in Mexico. However, Desperados is being produced in France and sold in more than 85 markets across the world. (, 26.06.2017)

The tequila flavored beer was launched in 1995 by Brasserie Fischer from Schiltigheim close to Strasbourg/France and became part of Heineken’s portfolio when the Dutch brewing group acquired the French brewer one year later. Since closure of the original brewing site in 2009, Desperados is brewed at Heineken’s Brasserie de l'Espérance also in Schiltigheim.

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