Czech brewery Budweiser gained another tool in its legal fight against US beer giant Anheuser-Busch. The Czech beer's geographical origin protects it under EU rules -- to the American brewer's ire.
Beers account for 18 of the EU's geographical protections
Beer has been flowing in the Czech town of Ceske Budejovice since 1265 -- 200 years before Columbus landed in America. That clearly distinguishing the town's beer as worthy of the European Union's rules of protection by geographical indication -- a fact it plans to start advertising on new bottle labels.
It's a move that has America's largest brewery, Anheuser-Busch, dialing up its lawyers once again. The US company says it has rights to the name Budweiser because it was first to register the trademark -- in 1878. It's been fighting for the name and against geographical indication protections in dozens of court cases around the world.
"We could make Budweiser Budvar right here in St. Louis, Missouri," Stephen Burrows, president of Anheuser-Busch International told the International Herald Tribune, referring to the company's headquarters. "There is nothing special about that (Czech) city."
Protections against product piracy
The Czech Republic's entrance to the EU last year means its regional products can be protected
But the EU recognized the Czech brewery Budweiser Budvar's claim for protection under one of the union's two regional designations when the Czech Republic joined the bloc last May. Brussels says the protections provide important information on quality to consumers and guard authentic European regional specialties against "piracy" by other producers.
The recognition gives the beer the status of hundreds of products under EU protection, including Greece’s Kalamata olives, Italy’s gorgonzola cheese and Germany’s Thüringer bratwurst.
Battle of the brewers
In one of the world's longest-running trademark disputes, Budweiser Budvar insists it should be awarded rights to the name, since it began brewing in the 13th century and by the 19th century had developed a style of beer that would be known as Budweiser, after the town's German name.
Budvar Budweiser is available in the US under the name Czechvar
Anheuser-Busch counters that it has the rights to the name Budweiser, which Eberhard Anheuser, a German brewer who emigrated to the USA, is said to have chosen because of its reputation in his homeland.
In an attempt to convince Americans of its beer's superiority, Budweiser Budvar began selling its brew on the US market under the name "Czechvar." Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser, available in Europe under different names, will get another chance to defend its reputation on the continent next summer, as the American brewer bought beer selling rights inside of Germany's 2006 World Cup stadiums.
Row positive for Budvar
In many ways the quarrel, which has extended to include the names "Bud" and "Budvar," has proved to be advantageous for the Czech brewery. Whether its lawyers win or lose their court battles, the brewery gets equal footing in the press with a rival whose advertising budget it isn’t capable of matching.
The two Budweisers are brewed with different sets of ingredients
"It does give us an interesting angle on the brand," John Harley, UK CEO of Budvar told Brandchannel.com. "It keeps us fresh in people’s minds, it keeps us fresh in consumer and business press and it gives people interesting stories to talk about in the pub."
Anheuser-Busch maintains that the dispute has no influence on its brand strategy.
"We use the 'Budweiser' brand name in three of our top five markets in Europe," Burrows told Brandchannel.com. "So the dispute is not having a significant impact on our international development."
Both companies claim wins in Australia, Austria
Anheuser-Busch's litigation machine has claimed victories in 15 countries, including Australia, Austria and the United States. Budvar says it has trademark rights in 12 countries, including Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany.
There's sure to be enough time for a drink before all the Budweiser trademark disputes are settled
The World Trade Organization also became indirectly involved in the issue when it ruled that geographical indicators could only be used in the language they are registered in and not in their translated forms -- as opposed to the EU's practice. Thus, "Budejovicky Budvar" is a protected name but "Budweiser" isn't necessarily.
The British court decision appears to have been the most understandable. The dispute there ended with judges allowing both companies to sell their beer under the name Budweiser. They credited beer drinkers with being discerning enough not to pour the Czech brew into a glass and expect American suds.