Two Beers United by One Name | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 19.05.2005
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Two Beers United by One Name

Litigation over the "Budweiser" beers produced by the Czech Budweiser Budvar and the US Anheuser-Busch breweries goes back decades and has its roots in the 13th century. Here's a look at the issue's highlights.

Budweiser's two brewers don't have much common ground to drink to

Budweiser's two brewers don't have much common ground to drink to

It didn't take brewers in the Czech town of Ceske Budejovice long to get their work started after Bohemian King Otakar II gave them the right to produce beer in 1265. Over 40 different breweries produced their sudsy drink by 1400, and throughout the next 300 years much of the world was able to quaff Ceske Budejovice's pale pilsner called "Budweiser," in recognition of the town's German name, Budweis.

The legal troubles began in the late 19th century, when German immigrants to the USA Carl Conrad and Adolphus Busch decided to do American beer drinkers a favor and brew a beer like the ones coming from Ceske Budejovice. They decided "Budweiser" was a fitting name for their "King of Beers" and registered the trademark in 1878.

A pragmatic solution

Symbolbild Bier trinken

In addition to having the same name, the two beers also share a style

Depending on who is answering the question, Busch chose the name at random or to honor one of his homeland's well-respected beers. Either way, it didn't take long for trademark lawyers to begin collecting their fees over the dispute.

By 1911, Czech brewers Budweiser Budvar and American beer giant Anheuser-Busch made a pragmatic agreement that allowed both companies to sell their beers in their own markets.

Prohibition in the US also made the topic a non-starter until 1937, when Budweiser Budvar -- which incorporated into its present form in 1895 -- tried to patent their beer in the United States.

The two companies reached another agreement in 1939, just a few weeks before Nazi troops occupied Czechoslovakia. Budweiser Budvar agreed never to market their beer in North America in exchange for a one-time payment from Anheuser-Busch. The deal still gets Czech tempers flaring, as they feel the German army massing just over the border led to an unfair agreement.

Cold War keeps beer dispute on ice

Ungarische Grenzbeamte bauen die Grenzanlagen zu Östereich ab Quiz 50 Jahre Deutsche Welle Frage 6

Trademark issues weren't a concern while the Iron Curtain divided Europe

Though the beer was a quality export product and provided Czechoslovakia's communist government with hard currency, Anheuser-Busch didn't feel a threat to its market share and didn't pursue the trademark dispute during the Cold War.

But after the Iron Curtain fell, the US company started bids to control Budweiser Budvar. Anheuser-Busch -- by then the world's largest brewery -- could no longer ignore the European market -- where most of the trade disputes continue to play out.

Friendly talks between the two Budweiser producers ended when they failed to agree on any terms of co-existence in 1996. Since then legal battles have been fought around the globe and have led to a variety of country-by-country solutions.

Dozens of suits still continue

Europäischer Gerichtshof in Luxemburg

Lawsuits continue in about 40 different courts around the globe

Anheuser-Busch says it has trademark rights in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Nigeria, Spain, Sweden, Tajikistan and the United States. Budvar claims it has trademark rights in Australia, Austria, Cambodia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, South Korea and Taiwan.

Both beers are forced to accept each other in Britain, where courts ruled that consumers were smart enough to know what to drink, allowing both breweries to use the registered names "Budweiser" and "Bud."

As some 40 lawsuits continue in various jurisdictions, it seems there will be plenty of time for another round of drinks before there's a clear, international answer to who really brews Budweiser -- if ever.

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