Heineken at risk of logo ban in Hun­gary

Move to out­law red star sym­bol af­ter brewer wins trade­mark bat­tle

Financial Times Middle East - - Companies - AN­DREW BYRNE — BU­DAPEST

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 coun­tryend­edCom­mu­nistrule.

The pro­pos­als, which were pre­sented by gov­ern­ment MPs to par­lia­ment for dis­cus­sion yes­ter­day, would ban the dis­play­of­sym­bol­sin­clud­ingth­eNaziswastika and the Com­mu­nist red star in the “in­ter­ests of do­mes­tic public or­der and pub­lic­moral­ity”.It­would­stip­u­late­fines 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 cospon­so­rofthe­lat­es­ta­mend­ment.

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.

ZoltanKovács,theHun­gar­i­an­govern­ment 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 theEuro­peanCourtofJus­tice.

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 trade­markpro­tec­tions.

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