Beer Brawl Heineken not Amused by Swiss 'Keineken' Campaign
Heineken has gone to court to stop a local Swiss group from distributing a spoof brand called Keineken (No Heineken). Local beer fans decided to launch the brew in protest at the Dutch brewer's increasing dominance of the Swiss beer market.
A judge in the Swiss canton Obwalden has ordered a supply of 1,200 Keineken bottles and matching glasses confiscated after Heineken filed a complaint for trademark infringement.
The Keineken ('Kein Heineken' or No Heineken) campaign is in response to recent acquisitions by the Dutch beer giant on the Swiss beer market. A year ago Heineken acquired the Swiss brewer Eichhof 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 Feldschlösschen brewery in 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 Aug. 19 Keineken deposited the Keineken trademark with the Swiss patent bureau and had Unser Bier brew up a supply of Keineken beer. But before the 120 Keineken members could even taste the beer, the police had already sealed the lot.
The small scope of the Keineken campaign is no argument, said a Heineken spokesperson. "We see this as trademark infringement and we filed a complaint accordingly."
'Heineken Scored an Own Goal'
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," said Engler. "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 instead. 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 acquisition of Eichhof. Instead the guests drank Unser Bier.
"As a precaution we blacked out the Keineken name on the t-shirts and flags we had made," said Engler. A good thing because the police came by later to check for further trademark infringement.
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 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 Klosterbräu by 2012 -- has now come just a bit loser. With or without Keineken."
NRC Handelsblad staff