Heineken at risk of logo ban in Hungary
Move to outlaw red star symbol after brewer wins trademark battle
Heineken’s red star logo could be outlawed in Hungary under draft legal changes to prohibit the use of “totalitarian symbols” for commercial purposes, 28 years after the central European country ended Communist rule.
The proposals, which were presented by government MPs to parliament for discussion yesterday, would ban the display of symbols including the Nazi swastika and the Communist red star in the “interests of domestic public order and public morality ”. It would stipulate fines of up to 2bn Hungarian forints ($6.9m) and a two-year prison sentence as possible penalties. The proposals fit a wider pattern of unorthodox policymaking by prime minister Viktor Orban, who has prioritised “economic patriotism”. He has targeted foreign companies with a raft of discriminatory regulatory changes and special taxes designed to increase Hungarian control of the private sector.
They also follow a victory by one of the Dutch brewer’s subsidiaries in a trademark dispute in Transylvania, a region of Romania which is heavily populated by ethnic Hungarians. A local court upheld Heineken’s complaint that a local brewer had infringed its trademarked “Ciuc” brand by marketing “Csiki” beer, which was popular with ethnic Hungarians.
The verdict prompted calls for a Heineken boycott by Hungary’s farright opposition Jobbik party and a visit to the craft brewery by Janos Lazar, a senior government minister and co sponsor of the latest amendment.
Heineken’s five-pointed star dates back to the 1880s, although it was first coloured red in 1930, before Communists took power in Hungary after the second world war.
Zo lt an Kovács, the Hungarian government spokesman, said the changes would affect all companies using totalitarian political content in their branding. “Any company using such symbols will be affected,” he said.
Mr Kovács would not be drawn on whether the proposals were linked to the Transylvanian dispute, which has stirred resentment among local brewers opposed to multinational companies’ dominance of the beverage sector. A spokeswoman for Heineken refused to comment on the proposals. Hungarian authorities in 2011 rejected trademark protection for a clothing brand which wanted to register a logo including the Communist red star, hammer and sickle and a map of the former Communist bloc. The decision was later upheld by the European Court of Justice.
If the latest proposals are approved and Heineken’s multibillion-dollar trademark is subsequently restricted in Hungary, it would probably prompt a legal battle between Budapest and the Dutch brewer in national and European courts, observers said.
Trademarks can be restricted or invalidated on public policy or morality grounds, intellectual property experts said, but restrictions have to be justified and applied in a sensible way. EU rules on the free movement of goods also allow for certain restrictions on trademark protections.