Is Virgin Olive Oil a Thing of the Past?

richard_bransonIf Richard Branson has his way, it might be.  Mr. Branson, the tremendously successful entrepreneur and chairman and founder of the Virgin Group has instituted a policy whereby the company’s lawyers aggressively target any company that uses the name Virgin in its own name, its marketing materials or within its URL.

The Virgin group has trademarked the name Virgin for use in multiple industries, including airlines, mobile technologies, health and wellness, books, casinos and more.  Although they do have a pretty broad industry base, their trademark lawyers work diligently to keep the name their own, even by targeting those whose industry they have yet to enter.  Although sometimes considered a bully in the trademark office, they remain unapologetic for their stance.  Some of the companies they had issue with include:

  • Virgin Vapors – a small vapor company located in California whose owner currently refuses to change its name despite being threatened with possible legal action.
  • The owners of domain names virginthreads.com, virginpublishing.com, virginstar.net, and virgincigar.com. The Virgin group alleges cyberpiracy for any company using the name virgin in their domain, even if it is not their business name.
  • Author Cristina Crayn, who named one of her published books, “Tales from the Virgin Vault.”
  • Virgin Valley Cab – a cab company in the Virgin Valley geographic location of Northwest Arizona, who recently came to an agreement with conglomerate to stop using the name.
  • Las Virgenes United Educational Foundation – a nonprofit organization in the Las Virgenes School District. The Virgin Group attempted to block the trademark application. Evidently, any virgin will meet their criteria – no matter which language it’s in.
  • I Am Not A Virgin – a New York clothing company which specializes in creating and selling denim products.
  • Virgin Air, a small airline in the American Virgin Islands, which no longer exists under this name.
  • CBS Studios, who may be opposed by the Virgin Group in an attempt to trademark the name Jane the Virgin, which they will use as a sitcom name.
  • Last year, the Virgin group attempted to stop Valle Grande from trademarking a phrase that contained the words “virgin olive oil”, using the argument that Valle Grande currently only sells vinegar.

According to multiple news reports, in the past several years, the Virgin group has targeted over 300 companies who used the word Virgin in their name, URL or marketing slogan.  Unfortunately, many of these 300 companies are small businesses who do not have the resources to fight back against a multi-billion dollar company with hundreds or even thousands of lawyers on retainer.  These small businesses almost always settle.

One reason for a company to be this diligent is to protect its brand name.  However, the question is:  Is this fair?  Unlike Microsoft or Verizon, the word Virgin has been used in the English language for thousands of years.  Yet, by taking this aggressive stance, Branson Company appears to be appropriating the word for its own exclusive use – one in which they redefine the word.

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