Heineken goes to court against Swiss group
A judge in the Swiss canton of Obwalden has ordered a supply of 1,200 Keineken bottles and matching glasses to be confiscated after Heineken filed a complaint for trademark infringement.
The No Heineken campaign is in response to recent acquisitions by the Dutch beer giant in the Swiss beer market. A year ago, Heineken acquired the Swiss brewer Eichof from Lucerne. According to Conrad Engler of the Keineken campaign, this meant that "the last big independent Swiss brewer ended up in foreign hands."
Eight years ago, when Carlsberg took over the Feldschlossen brewery near Basel, local beer aficionados founded the Unser Bier (Our Beer) brewery in the same city. The Keineken campaign in Lucerne was inspired by this.
On 19 August Keineken desposited the Keineken trademark with the Swiss patent bureau and had Unser Bier brew a supply of Keineken beer. But before the 120 Keineken members could even taste the brew, the police had sealed the lot.
The small scope of the Keineken campaign is no argument, said a Heineken spokesperson. "We see this as a trademark infringement and we filed a complaint accordingly."
The speed with which Heineken acted took the Keineken activists by surprise. "On Friday morning we sent out a press release about Keineken and four hours later Heineken's lawyers were on the phone," Conrad Engler said. "They demanded an immediate halt to the distribution of Keineken and a withdrawal of the trademark."
Keineken said it was willing to halt the sale of Keineken until the trademark was processed but Heineken was not appeased and went to court. That same night the police entered Engler's garage to seal the Keineken supply. As a result, there was no Keineken beer at a party on Saturday to commemorate the first anniversary of Heineken's acquisiton of Eichof. Instead the guests drank Unser Bier.
"As a precaution we blacked out the Keineken name on the t-shirts and flags we had made," Engler said. "That was just as well, as the police came by to check for further trademark infringements."
The judge is expected to take several weeks to reach a final verdict. Heineken is confident it will win the case, a spokesperson said.
But Conrad Engler expects to get the last laugh. "Heineken scored an own goal with their legal action," he said. "The media attention has brought us dozens of new members. Our goal -- to have an Engelberger Klosterbrau by 2012 -- has now come a bit closer, with or without Keineken."