- Virgin Group acquires Virgin Australia name and Internet domain virginaustralia.com.au
- Virgin Blue applying new name internally
- Virgin Blue executives appointed to Virgin Australia Airlines and Virgin Australia Holdings
Virgin Blue is in final stages to re-brand its domestic operation as Virgin Australia following the federal court siding with a claim from Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group that a Victorian company was infringing on the Virgin Australia trademark.
The lawsuit's applicant, Virgin Enterprises Limited, the Virgin Group's London-based company that owns and leases over 2000 "Virgin" trademarks, trademarked the Virgin Australia name in February 2010 in 200 categories including air travel, seating reservation, loyalty programmes, passenger lounges, package tours, promotion of sport events, freight services, in-flight entertainment, limousine hire, airport parking, and model aeroplanes.
The court ordered the Victorian company, Virgin Australia Pty Limited, to legally change its name and be restrained from using the Virgin Australia name. On 24 February the company changed its name and Virgin Enterprises then reserved the Virgin Australia name, according to Australian Securities & Investments Commission filings, which were received on 25 February. Companies must submit a complete application within two months of their initial filing, leaving less than a fortnight for Virgin Enterprises to do so.
The court also ordered Virgin Australia to remove advertisements and listings in telephone directories across the country as well to remove content from its website at virginaustralia.com.au and then transfer the domain registration to Virgin Enterprises.
Virgin Enterprises is listed as the owner of the virginaustralia.com.au website that is now blank, a change that only occurred recently, sources familiar with the situation say. It is believed the transfer of the domain was one of the last external steps leading up to the public launch of the re-branded airline, Virgin Australia.
Virgin Enterprises owns the current Virgin Blue trademark and leases it to the airline. The same arrangement is expected to be in place for the Virgin Australia re-branding.
Virgin Blue is understood to have already taken the Virgin Australia name, stylised to resemble Virgin Atlantic's logo, and apply it internally in select circumstances.
Representatives of Virgin Enterprises were unavailable for comment. A Virgin Blue spokesman declines to comment on the lawsuit, saying "That litigation does not involve the Virgin Blue Group. It would be inappropriate for us to make any comment. We are not a party to it." As for the re-branding to Virgin Australia, the spokesman says: "We have not made any public statements on the outcome of the re-branding exercise."
The branding of Virgin Blue's international operations is unconfirmed. The Virgin Group has established holding companies including Virgin Australia Holdings Pty Limited, registered in 2000, and Virgin Australia Airlines, registered in 2007. Virgin Blue executives have recently been listed with both organisations as company officeholders. Sean Donohue, group executive operations, was most recently added on 23 March, according to the ASIC. The Virgin Blue spokesman was unable to comment on the appointments.
Incidentally, the previous owner of the Virgin Australia Twitter account has been suspended, paving the way for the carrier to acquire it. On Facebook, the username and web extension facebook.com/virginaustralia is available.
The re-branding could be announced early next month when Sir Richard Branson will be in the region after serving as a flight attendant on an AirAsia X flight from London to Kuala Lumpur. It is believed Virgin Blue hoped to announce the re-branding, with Branson's presence, in February but the trademark infringement delayed the announcement.
Last year Virgin offered the Virgin Australia business holders a figure in the low tens of thousands of dollars to surrender their business name and Internet domain, but the company counter-offered an amount in excess of one million dollars, sources familiar with the situation say. Virgin Enterprises then filed its suit on 25 November. There were two mediation sessions although it is unknown if the previous Virgin Australia name owners received any compensation.
Virgin Australia Pty Limited had exclusively sold promotional and corporate gift "Easyreader" bookmarks that feature a sliding indicator (light blue panel, right) to remind readers where they left off in a passage, archived versions of its website indicate. Its slogan beckoned, "Easy reading with Easyreader". There was no explanation linking the company or the Easyreader bookmark to its Virgin Australia company name, which it registered in April 2004, according to the Australian Government.
The company's website carried the disclaimer that Virgin Australia "is an Australian owned company, founded in March 1991 in accordance with all Australian Government and Corporate Laws. Virgin Australia wishes to make it clear, that it does not want to be confused or associated with Sir Richard Branson's - Virgin group of companies."
The previous owners of Virgin Australia used a logo featuring a boomerang and Southern Cross constellation (right), design elements used by Virgin Blue and V Australia, but it is not immediately clear how contentious the logo was in the lawsuit. The company changed its name to Easyreader Pty Limited. It could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit's resolution was finalised on 24 February, the day Virgin Blue chief executive John Borghetti and senior management left for Abu Dhabi on V Australia's inaugural service to the UAE capital.
Borghetti has said the re-branding, which could consist of multiple brands, would be unveiled before the end of the financial year on 30 June.
Virgin Enterprises' lawsuit also filed trademark infringement against the owner of the websites virginadultproducts.com.au and virginap.com. The court ordered the website domains to be transferred to Virgin Enterprises. It is understood Virgin Enterprises taking possession of those websites was unrelated to the airline's re-branding.