Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, owner of the U.S. “Budweiser” mark for beer, has recorded a small success in its longstanding efforts to establish worldwide exclusive rights to the Budweiser mark by purchasing the rights to Budweiser trademarks held by a small Czech brewery, Budejovicky Mestansky Pivovar.
However, this is a victory in a small skirmish in InBev’s much larger trademark war with another Czech brewer, state-owned Budejovicky Budvar NP. InBev (through Anheuser-Busch) and Budvar have been engaged in multiple disputes related to the Budweiser mark for many years. In one of the most recent decisions, the European Court of Justice ruled in 2011 that InBev and Budvar could both continue to sell beer in the UK under the Budweiser mark, because they had both been doing so for at least 30 years. “Although the names are identical, UK consumers are well aware of the difference between the beers of Budvar and those of Anheuser-Busch, since their tastes, prices and get-ups have always been different,” the court said.
The trademark dispute arises from the fact that, for many centuries, beer has been brewed in the Czech town of Ceske Budejovice, which is called Budweis in German. The mark Budweiser was, originally at least, a geographically descriptive mark, because Budweiser means “from Budweis.” Meanwhile, in the US, Anheuser-Bush adopted the trademark Budweiser because the mark was well known in Germany as a mark for beer. Because InBev owns the Budweiser mark in the US, Budvar’s beer is sold in the US under the mark “Czechvar.”
On its website, Budvar states that it is involved in 22 court disputes in 14 countries with Inbev, and that in the period of 2000-2009, 115 court disputes and administrative procedures before patent offices were finalized, 82 of which resulting in favour of Budweiser Budvar. Budvar claims that that “vast majority of court rulings have thus confirmed Budweiser Budvar’s rights to its trademarks”. No doubt InBev takes a different view.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in an article here, suggests that InBev may seek to buy a stake in Budvar if the Czech government sells the brewer. Given the multiplicity of disputes, it appears it would take a strategic move like that finally to resolve this dispute. Until that happens, we have not heard the last of the battle of the Buds.