Richard Branson Claims People May Confuse 'I Am Not A Virgin Jeans' With His Virgin Properties

from the er,-they're-saying-they're-not-virgin,-richard... dept

Forbes has an article about how lawyers representing Richard Brandson’s Virgin property have sent a letter to “I Am Not A Virgin,” a small jeans company in NYC, complaining about its attempt to register the trademark on its name in the US. The Forbes report falsely states that it’s a copyright issue (seriously, don’t people check these things?) and also seems to miss that the letter is about a planned opposition to a trademark registration. Peter Heron, I Am Not A Virgin’s founder, put together an amusing video reading the letter and questioning Branson’s claims:

My favorite bit is him asking if Branson thinks that people walking by “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” in the store are likely to be confused by it. In fact, you could argue that the likelihood of confusion (or dilution, since that’s in play too) is extremely minimal here. Hell, the entire name of the company is claiming that it’s not a “virgin,” though I’d imagine that’s a reference to the more common definition of the word, rather than Branson’s widespread brand. Considering that one way companies often avoid tradmeark issues is to clearly state that they are “not affiliated” with a particular trademark, how much stronger of a not affiliated statement would Heron need than having the very brand claim it’s not the other brand?

To be fair, the letter itself is much more on the friendly side of the spectrum, when it comes to legal nastygrams. It doesn’t take a completely hardline stance, tries to express a common viewpoint (applauding the support for “the planet” and entrepreneurs), and even makes some (kinda silly) suggestions for alternate names (“I Am Not Chaste,” “I Am Not Pure” — to which Heron suggests “how about ‘I Am Not Made By Richard Branson’). But, it doesn’t go to Jack Daniels’ level of friendliness, in making it clear that no change will lead the company to officially seek to have Heron’s trademark (which he’s had for 3.5 years) revoked by the USPTO.

It’s also clear that Heron is milking this for all its worth as a marketing strategy (which is a pretty reasonable strategy, given the situation). But that raises more questions about why Virgin/Branson even went down this road in the first place. They had to know that they were just asking for a public shaming.

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Comments on “Richard Branson Claims People May Confuse 'I Am Not A Virgin Jeans' With His Virgin Properties”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Virgin, Windows, Apple and more

Virgin must abe a very complicated brand to manage these days. Megastores sold, music production company sold to EMI ater a pump-and-dump stunt buying the Rolling Stones catalog shortly before selling and whatever else… More seriously, those companies choosing a common word for their brand such as Virgin, Apple, Windows, etc… should be denied any ownership including in the commercial space.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Trademarks that use common words should be less exclusive than unique words. Specifically, common words like monster or virgin should be usable in the names of other companies as long as there is a meaningful link to the meaning of the word, it is not the same type of product, and it is used in a way that avoids confusion.

Companies who use common words as trademarks have chosen a mark that has already suffered a form of dilution, and therefore their ability to claim exclusive use should be weakened.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Branson seems deluded here...

This is the main point, did your trademark have a meaning before you claimed it? If it did then you should have to accepted any use of the word that makes use of that meaning.

I’m not a virgin makes sense in a world where Virgin did not exist. Now “I am not a virgin TV” makes a given amount of sense pre Virgin but makes significantly more sense post Virgin and as such I think could be argued to be a trade mark problem.

That said I don’t think trademarks should be given on single existing words full stop.

hfbs (profile) says:

Bransons explanation (“I Am Not A Pepsi” etc) is weak at best.. If I saw two items and they had a completely different font, typeface, logo, were a different whole damned product, I don’t think I’d get confused and buy one, thinking it was a other. It’s the case here as well. IANAV is using a standard sentence (questionable in itself.. I don’t see how common sentences can be trademarked anyway.. I wonder if I can trademark ‘I’m Drinking Tea’ and ‘I Shower Naked’?) so how can Virgin claim to own some of it?

Of course, lest we forget, Virgin Cola:
“Hey dude, buy me some cola, would you?”
“Sure thing!” *buys Coca Cola*
“No you idiot! I wanted Virgin Cola! This hipster party’s ruined!”

I think it’s safe to say there was more chance of confusion there…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I am not an Apple.
I am not a Harley.
I am not an Otis.

I can keep going. In each case, a major trade name was used, yet they do have OTHER meanings.

Branson’s company is right here. Trademarks need to be zealous protected, otherwise their scope may be limited and their use in the end termed generic.

Personally, I took the t-shirt as a 1% type protest shirt, claiming not to be “the man”. I got the Virgin media connection right away.

hfbs (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

There’s a difference between protecting your trademark and pretending you own a common word and all iterations, meanings and uses of it.

Personally, I took the t-shirt as a 1% type protest shirt, claiming not to be “the man”. I got the Virgin media connection right away.

And I personally didn’t. I took it to mean ‘I have had sex before’. What now? What if there is no Virgin Media connection? What if the guy actually did mean ‘I have had sex before’?

Robert Doyle (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Get your head in the gutter and out of the trademark/copyright/blah blah blah

I also don’t think you can buy those jeans as it would be false advertising – only a 40-year old virgin would not think of the sexual reference immediately (wait – can I make a legitimate reference that happens to now be the title of a movie or because they made a movie I can no longer use that phrase? So Dazed and Confused about this… crap! I can’t be both of those at the same time anymore either! Fuck this, I’m going to Whitecastle… damnit!)

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s the new fad in the US. Register a name that looks alike a big company, then cry wolf over it. It’s reverse-suing-everyone psychology in action and it’s working great so far. But people will catch on and those crybaby trolls will die out on their own.

Imagine the publicity the guy got with this stunt? Probably making tons of cash already. Lame.

Togashi (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So if I started a company called “I Am Not A Monster”, which company would you be trying to claim I was doing that with? Could I be claiming I’m not an overpriced cable? Or perhaps I’m saying I’m not a slightly disgusting energy drink?

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m saying I’m not a bad person. Gee, it’s almost like some words have meaning outside the corporate landscape!

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