Virgin Enterprises targets LV company in trademark lawsuit

A longtime admirer of Sir Richard Branson has got the attention of the flamboyant billionaire — but not the way he would have liked.

Branson’s company Virgin Enterprises has targeted Paul Johnson’s Las Vegas business Virgin Properties with a trademark lawsuit for which Johnson says he can’t afford attorneys to defend.

“I’ve followed (Branson) really closely for 20 years,” said Johnson, who ran his one-man business from Las Vegas until a few months ago. “He’s not the kind of guy who would ever do this. He’s got these renegade lawyers.”

Branson’s company, which claims global sales of more than $20 billion, sued against Johnson’s tiny enterprise Oct. 31.

Johnson’s “deceptively named Virgin Properties business is designed to profit from pre-existing public awareness of, and goodwill associated with the Virgin trademark,” the lawsuit claims.

In a response and counterclaim to the lawsuit Johnson says, “only an idiot,” would confuse his one-man operation with Branson’s Virgin, which has more than 50,000 workers globally.

An attorney for Virgin Enterprises was unavailable for comment.

Johnson says he specializes only in clients interested in acquiring and development of previously untouched property, what Johnson calls virgin land.

From 2000 until 2008, Johnson worked in Las Vegas but has since moved to Newport Beach, Calif.

Whether Johnson has legal cover remains in doubt, considering the reputation Branson’s Virgin has for aggressively pursuing trademark cases.

“I’m not going to say it is a great case. But Virgin is well-known for going after a lot of people doing this sort of thing,” said Ryan Giles, a Las Vegas lawyer who runs a blog about trademark cases at www.vegas trademarkattorney.com.

“They definitely have a lot of resources to squash a lot of small-business owners,” Giles said. “To mount an effective defense, you are looking at about $10,000 a month.”

A complicating factor could be the presence of several businesses in Southern Nevada and Washington County, Utah, using the name Virgin.

That’s partly because the region is home to the Virgin Valley and Virgin River, which flows out of Utah into Southern Nevada.

There are at least seven businesses in the Southern Nevada-Southern Utah region with the word Virgin in the name including a BMX bike park, a gift shop, a hospice care center, a mortuary and a hotel-casino, according to phone listings.

Giles says its best to avoid potential trademark conflicts before they arise, though.

“Spend a little money to consult with a trademark attorney to make sure you’re not going to run into any problems,” he said.

The case is filed in United States District Court, Central District of California.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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