Wednesday, 12 July 2017

'Desperados' for Tequila?

For some years, the Mexican producers of tequila have manifested disagreement with the use of the word ‘tequila’ in ‘Desperados’ one of the brands of the company Heineken Enterprise. ‘Tequila’ is an alcoholic beverage native from Mexico, specifically, from the region comprising part of the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, Michoacán and Guanajuato. It is obtained by distillation and rectification from the agave tequilana blue variety or tequila agave. References to its production date back to 1943, but the efforts to secure legal recognition started in the 1970s after some countries began to produce spirits to whom they called ‘tequila.’ As a result, in 1974 the appellation of origin Tequila was declared.

For its quality and particular flavour, the tequila has earned international recognition as a symbol of the Mexican cultural identity. Since 1993, the Mexican Tequila Regulatory Council (Consejo Regulador del Tequila – CRT) has been the organisation dedicated to safeguard the appellation of origin, and to verify and certify as to whether or not a product complies with the Mexican Official Standard of Tequila (NOM-006-SCFI-2012).

The question in dispute is that the beer ‘Desperados’ does not contain tequila but ‘flavours’ of which 75% is tequila, and yet it uses the word tequila in its trademark. It is noteworthy that such word is highlighted in the trademark because of the high-contrast made by its red letters over the beer’s yellow colour.

Two weeks ago, CNN in Spanish reported the disapproval of the tequila industry with this situation. According to the news agency, the CRT considers that the use of ‘tequila’ in the trademark misleads consumers as the beer Desperados neither has tequila nor is a CRT’s certified product. Consequently, the CRT affirms that ‘tequila’ should no longer be used in the trademark, or that tequila must be one of the ingredients of Desperados. In the same news is informed that a representative of Heineken stated that the flavouring utilised for the production of the beer contains genuine tequila, which is purchased from a member of the CRT.

Apart from the appellation of origin achieved in 1974, in June this year, under the registration number 5225126 the United States Patent and Trademark Office - USPTO granted the Certification Mark ‘Tequila.’ This was the result of a joint action of the tequila industry and the Mexican Government. It would be expected, thus, that the concession of this trademark is presented as another argument against the use that Heineken has been making of the word tequila. Nonetheless, it is important to highlight that Heineken has also achieved recognition of the brand Desperados by the USPTO.

In this state of affairs, no end to this dispute is in sight. However, there is no doubt that whatever its outcome may be; this case is of relevance for trademark law.

Post written by Florelia Vallejo Trujillo
Assistant Professor, Universidad del Tolima, Colombia
PhD Candidate University of Nottingham, UK

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