Budweiser is an iconic beer in North America, but it was not the first, a Czech brewery established the name far earlier.
Last year a panel of judges at the European Court of Justice said that Anheuser-Busch's request for an EU trademark for âBudweiserâ was invalid, because BudÄjovickÃ½ Budvar had already registered the term as an âinternational word markâ, a type of intellectual property protection. The court's decision meant that BudÄjovickÃ½ Budvar, a Czech brewery, would be able to continue using the name Budweiser on labels and marketing materials for its beer Budvar.
I remember, years ago, while I was living in England, during a year of law school at Cambridge University, I was served my first Budvar. I was then informed that the North American beer was not the first with that name. However, this battle over the name has been raging for far longer. The use of the registered trademark for Budweiser Budvar beer is originally from the Czech Republic. The St. Louis-based Anheuser Busch has been trying to purchase the Pilsner trademark for global use from the Czech company for decades. But, successive Czech governments have persistently opposed this or any privatization of the state owned company.
The two companies are still fighting over the name in different European countries. In Italy, the Czech beer must be sold as Czechvar instead of its official name, Budvar. In Spain Budvar retains its name and the American beer has to be sold simply as Bud.
Trademark disputes in the EU
When the Czech Republic became part of the European Union (EU), the appellation Protected Geographical Indication was granted for âBudweiser Beerâ and âCeske Budejovice Beerâ. This seal protects the beer in the EU, guaranteeing that it would always be produced from the same raw materials and in the same area.
Anheuser-Busch bought the rights to the Budweiser Budvar trademarks for the territory of the USA just prior to World War II. This has allowed the American brewery to attain registered trademarks in some other countries where it sells its products under the Budweiser name.
Budweiser Budvar has 380 registered trademarks in over 100 countries. The name Budweiser comes from the Bohemian town where itâs produced, Ceske Budejovice, also know as Budweis in German. The Pilsner beer has been brewed here since 1265. Founded by King Premysl Otakar II, Ceske Budejovice even served as the royal brewery for the Holy Roman Emperor.
St. Louis based Anheuser-Busch, which was founded by a German immigrant, has used the trademark since 1876. It had applied for an EU license to market the beer in Europe under the Budweiser trademark in 1996, but was blocked by Budweiser Budvar, which had exclusive rights to sell beer under the brand name in Germany and Austria.
Budweiser Budvar opposes Budweiser
The fact that Budweiser would sue for trademark infringement the company from whom it originally obtained a license (for the use of that same trademark) alleging prior use, illustrates the extraordinary value of a strong trademark. There have been more than 70 administrative proceedings in patent offices worldwide and another 40 court cases over the trademark dispute. Most legal decisions have upheld the legal rights of Budweiser Budvar and the brewery has won victories in major trademark disputes in Great Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Greece, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and New Zealand.
Budweiser Budvar is the last of the large breweries, which reside exclusively in the Czech capital. The company is significantly smaller than its American rival; however, it still commands an honorable place on both the European and international markets. It redirects part of its profits into culture, education, and health care in the Czech Republic. The companyâs steadfastness is likely to continue as it seeks to protect not only its trademark, but its centuries-old beer brewing tradition.
Also see our article on a similar dispute in the alcohol industry between Pusser's Rum and a New York bar formerly named Painkiller.