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US Brewer Loses EU-Wide Rights to Budweiser Name in Court Ruling

df/nda/afp/ap/reuters/bloombergMarch 25, 2009

Even though Anheuser-Busch lost its trademark battle with the EU against a Czech rival on Wednesday, it still retains the right to market the suds under the "Budweiser" name in individual European nations.

Budweiser sign is seen atop one of the buildings at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis
Battles over the Budweiser name goes back nearly a century.Image: AP

US brewer Anheuser-Busch lost another battle in its long-running fight over rights to its "Budweiser" name. On Wednesday, an EU court rejected the company's claim to register the flagship brand as a European-wide trademark.

Anheuser-Busch and a smaller Czech brewing company, which markets beer as "Budweiser Budvar" in Europe, have fought for nearly a century over the use of the name, but the legal battle began 13 years ago.

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 the Czech Republic's Budejovicky Budvar, which had exclusive rights to sell beer under the brand name in Germany and Austria.

Budvar claims it owns the rights because its beer comes from the Czech region of Ceske Budejovice, which is called Budweis in German.

Anheuser-Busch's EU appeals rejected

Budweiser Budvar beer bottle next to a beer can with same name.
Budvar says its beer comes from a place called Budweis.Image: picture-alliance/ dpa

The EU's trademark office (OHIM) had rejected Anheuser-Busch's application to use the trademark throughout the 27 nation bloc. Anheuser-Busch then appealed in court but lost. Its claim was again dismissed when the EU's Court of First Instance upheld OHIM's decision.

The upside for the American company -- now known as Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, after a Belgian brewer bought it for $52 billion (39 billion euros) last year -- is that it can still maintain the trademark in individual EU markets.

Even though the giant brewer, which is the world's largest, won't have blanket approval for using the Budweiser name in the 27 nation bloc as a whole, the Belgian company plans to transform the brand, which is a household name for millions of Americans, into its flagship product worldwide.

Rights to "Budweiser" name exist in individual EU nations

None of Budweiser's existing trademark rights in Europe will be cancelled by the ruling, company spokeswoman Marianne Amssoms told Bloomberg News. Anheuser Busch InBev already owned the rights to Budweiser or Bud trademarks in 23 of the 27 EU member states.

Glass filled with beer next to a Budweiser bottle. The shortened version of the Budweiser name called "Bud" is in neon red in the background.
"Bud" was approved by EU for merchandise, not beer.Image: AP

“This was merely an effort to further extend our Budweiser rights and gain additional protections,” she said.

The judgment “does not impact our plans for development of Budweiser as a global brand,” Anssoms added.

"Budweiser" beverages, which include beer, ale, porter, malted alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, are sold in Germany under the name Anheuser-Busch Bud.

EU also throws "Bud" case out of court

In a separate case recently, Anheuser-Busch-InBev also lost a bid in December when the EU court threw out the trademark "Bud" for use the entire bloc, but only for the beer. "Bud", a shortened version of "Budweiser" brand name, was approved for use on merchandise such as coasters, T-shirts and other paraphernalia in 2007.

The company has not ruled out an appeal on the full "Budweiser" name before the European Court of Justice, the EU's highest court, which would have to be filed within the next two months. If Anheuser-Busch-InBev manages to reverse the ruling in the EU's top court, it would have the right to block Budvar from using the Budweiser name for its beers.