Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Budvar win ends Budweiser EU trade mark hopes in 100-year legal battle

Out-Law News | 02 Aug 2010 | 2:32 pm | 1 min. read

Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar has won a 14-year legal battle to defend its trade mark for the name 'Budweiser' for its beer in Germany and Austria. The victory was just the latest, though, in a struggle stretching back 100 years.

US-based brewer Anheuser-Busch, which is now owned by Belgium's InBev, had claimed an EU-wide trade mark on the term 'Budweiser'.

But the European Court of Justice (ECJ) backed Budejovicky Budvar's claim that it had not lost trade mark rights in Germany and Austria when they expired during the process of its objection to Anheuser-Busch's attempts to register the mark.

Anheuser-Busch has the right to market its beer as Budweiser in 23 EU countries, but Budejovicky Budvar has now retained the right to use the name Budweiser exclusively in Austria and Germany.

The ruling prevents InBev from registering the term as a trade mark across the whole of the EU, but does not affect its trade mark rights in individual countries. It comes at the end of a protracted 14-year legal battle in which each successive court has found in favour of Budejovicky Budvar.

The wider dispute between the companies over the Budweiser name, though, is one of the longest running commercial disputes in history and has been going on for over 100 years.

Budweiser Budvar takes its name from that brewery's home town, Ceske Budejovice, which was known as Budweis in German. As was customary, the beer made there was named for the town, and called Budweiser.

Though beer had been brewed there since the 14th century, by the time Budejovicky Budvar started selling it under that name a brewery had been established in the US marketing a Budweiser beer. That became one of the world's biggest beer companies.

The two companies first came to an agreement in 1907, when Anheuser-Busch agreed to market its beers only in the US if Budejovicky Budvar did so only in Europe.

That agreement was further cemented in 1939. The 1939 deal dividing the markets into the US and Europe was the basis of later claims to US import-control authority the International Trade Commission that Budejovicky Budvar had broken the deal when some of its beer appeared on the US market under the Budweiser label. Budejovicky Budvar denied the charge and said that it must have been imported by a third party.

The trade mark dispute just decided by the ECJ was begun when Anheuser-Busch applied for an EU trade mark for the term 'Budweiser' in 1996, but it did not stop the companies coming to other agreements.

In 2007 Anheuser-Busch agreed to become Budejovicky Budvar's US distributor, marketing its beer as Czechvar.

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