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Pyrrhic victory for Budvar in EU trademark battle

19-Dec-2003

An attempt by US-based brewing giant Anheuser-Busch to keep Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar from registering its name as a European Community trademark was foiled by the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market of the European Union (OHIM) this week.

The US brewer, which is fighting a worldwide battle with Budvar over who has the right to the Budweiser name, had claimed that allowing the Czech group to register the name in the EU would have caused confusion. A-B's own Budweiser beer is already registered there.

While A-B is allowed to sell its beer in most of the Member States under the Bud or Budweiser brand, it has not been successful in every attempt to prevent the Czech firm from using the Budweiser name, to which it claims the sole rights on the grounds that only its beer is made in the town of Ceske Budejovice (or Budweis in German) after which the brand is named.

In the UK, for example, both brands have the Budweiser name, although the Czech brand also carries the word Budvar. In Austria, meanwhile, Budvar will have to prove that the Budweiser name is associated with the name of the town where it is brewed before it will be allowed to keep the trademark.

But while the OHIM's ruling will allow Budvar to register its Budejovicky Budvar brand name in the trading bloc, it does not allow it to use the Budweiser name for the beer. Nor does it prevent A-B from continuing to sell its brands there under the Bud and Budweiser names.

But rather than looking on the ruling as a defeat, Stephen Burrows, chief executive and president of Anheuser-Busch International, said that the court's decision in fact strengthened A-B's rights to the Budweiser and Bud names, and supported the company's view that "Budvar has no right to the Budweiser name".

He said: "We will continue selling Budweiser or Bud in 13 of the 15 European Union member states, including Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The decision does not affect our ability to obtain additional registrations for Budweiser or Bud in the European Union."

He added: "OHIM upheld Anheuser-Busch's rights to the Budweiser and Bud names for various non-beer products, including clothing, drinking vessels, paper products, etc. The Board of Appeal ruled in Anheuser-Busch's favour on 11 of 14 counts, the trademark office also ordered the Czech brewery to pay court costs for these 11 cases."

Anheuser-Busch has undisputed rights to the Budweiser brand name in most of the world and sells its beer in more than 80 countries. The American firm has won recent victories against its Czech rival in Argentina, Australia, Denmark, Finland, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and Sweden.

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