This is a virgin post!

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Imagine a world that restricts word usage based on corproate CEOs dictating terms? Corporations are known to retain attorneys to maintain any alleged copyright breech, many going over the top to even fashion similarities. Take Steve Jobs/Apple and a lawsuit that reached as far as Australia, where Apple claimed a similarity between its apple logo to a supermarket chain’s logo. One thing is certain, Apple sure has a healthy, if not, ridiculous imagination, but I doubt it’s about imagination. It’s more about control and such plays turn me off the petitioning companies (Apple and Virgin).

This time Virgin tried to take a modern day David to court over one word: virgin. As a blogger, I’m tempted to encourage a meme simply, and aptly, titled: the virgin meme. The reason behind that thought is my increasing irritation at corporate despots like Jobs and Sir Richard Branson -who attempted to sue a man for using one word, yes ‘virgin’, in a slogan.

Imagine that, being sued for including the word, virgin, in a slogan. So I thought, bugger it, I’ll add it to the title of this post: This is a virgin post. Let Richard stick that in his legal manila folder. Virgin Enterprises has lost a lawsuit and has now been ordered to pay:

There have been many David and Goliath battles, but seldom over the ownership of one word. The underdog in this case was a South African whose company has one employee — him. The giant that stood in his path was a multibillion pound empire owned by Sir Richard Branson.

And there was the clue to the word at stake: virgin.

The legal fight ended in victory for Dimitri Philippou after he was allowed to trademark an advertising slogan of 10 words, including virgin, despite objections from Branson’s Virgin Enterprises.

A spokesman for Philippou said it was the first time a company other than Branson’s had secured a trademark for the word, apart from some registered for olive oil, in which the word is descriptive.

“I feel ecstatic,” said Philippou, who turned 44 today. “When it’s a massive organisation like that you start panicking a bit. I had more than a few sleepless nights. It’s like a big Goliath is going to squash you.”

Philippou set up Bodtrade 54, a company specialising in intellectual property and branding, in 2007. He came up with the marketing slogan: “You can’t be a virgin all your life it’s time,” to be used across various industries, though he admits punctuation is not his strong point.

He said: “It’s saying that it’s time to try something new for the first time. You can put whatever subject you want after it.”

Philippou, a property entrepreneur from Cape Town, applied to register the phrase at the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) because of its global reputation. It put him on collision course with Virgin which, founded by Branson in 1970, has created more than 200 branded companies worldwide, employing around 50,000 people in 29 countries. Branded revenues in 2008 surpassed £11bn.

Philippou said: “I didn’t think it would be an issue because virgin is only one word in the sentence of 10 words. But then my attorney said he received opposition – and five lever arch files of why we need to be stopped.

“It was quite intimidating. We’re talking about a massive organisation and five lever arch files. You do feel a little bit threatened. I never put a figure on how much I could have lost.”

He said Virgin Enterprises filed its objection in February 2008, arguing that third party use would trade on its hard-won reputation.

The arguments were heard last year by the IPO, which noted that the earliest use of the word in trademarks was in 1971 when Virgin Records was registered. It found in Philippou’s favour and ordered Virgin to pay £1,500 towards his legal costs. [source]

It’s valid to question the ridiculousness of legal teams within corporations, trying to lay claim to common words and unrelated visual representations. In this case, Sir Richard chose the word virgin for his company in the same way that apple was chosen. Both words are common. They’re everyday words, which increases exposure for the respective companies, but the drawbacks are part and parcel of life.

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