Court rules Alhambra can keep Aguila Negra brand

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Related tags: Law

Heinken's Spanish unit has lost its court case against smaller
local brewer Alhambra over the rights to the Aguila Negra brand. On
the surface, Heineken's case was built on the claim that Aguila
Negra was competing unfairly with its own El Aguila brand, but it
is perhaps more true to say that it stemmed from the obsession of
one Heineken director to promote El Aguila at all costs.

Another victory for David against Goliath in the Spanish beer market with the ruling late last month that Cervezas Alhambra can continue to sell its beer under the Aguila Negra brand, overturning a request from Heineken that the brand be removed from the market.

Heineken, which has said it will appeal against the decision, had called for the brand rights to be taken away from Alhambra because it was not currently producing or selling beer under that name. Alhambra acquired the brand rights in 1997 from the now defunct Aguila Negra brewery.

The dispute between Alhambra and Heineken has lasted two years, and arose from the 2000 merger of Heineken's Spanish subsidiaries, Cruzcampo and El Aguila, to form the country's biggest brewer with a 40 per cent market share.

Carlos de Jaureguizar, then head of El Aguila and now number two at Heineken Espana, filed a complaint in January 2001 calling for Aguila Negra to be withdrawn from the market on the grounds that it was competing illegally with El Aguila, which he was in the process of turning into one of Heinken's leading pan-European beer brands.

According to sources close to the company cited by the Cinco Dias​ newspaper, Alhambra's response was to bring a counter lawsuit against Heinken Espana's two top executives, De Jaureguizar and his superior Piero Perron, claiming that they had hired a private detective to show that Aguila Negra was no longer being sold, and that this constituted industrial espionage.

Alhambra accused the detective of having illegally entered its Cervezas Surena brewery in Cordoba in order to obtain confidential information about the business, but this case was dismissed when it became clear that he had been invited onto the premises by posing as a beer expert.

Nonetheless, the information he obtained - and which Heineken Espana said showed that the brand was no longer being sold - was not deemed sufficient to prove that Aguila Negra should have the rights withdrawn.

Since Aguila Negra has co-existed with El Aguila for many years, there was little foundation for Heineken's claim that it was attempting to benefit from the good name of the Dutch brewer's brand. If anything, the fact that the brand is currently not being sold supports Alhambra's case that it is not competing illegally with Heineken.

Of course, there is always the possibility that production will begin again in the future, but given the size of Alhambra, this is likely at best to be small scale, and scarcely a threat to the mighty Dutch brewer.

In reality, the case is more a reflection of the single-minded determination of De Jaureguizar to promote his brand (which, if anything, competes more fiercely with Cruzcampo than with brands produced by rival brewers) than the risk of any real threat from Alhambra. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see whether Heineken does indeed appeal against the decision or whether it sees sense and lets sleeping brands lie.

Related topics: R&D

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