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EU court rejects Anheuser-Busch InBev bid to protect Budweiser

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 | 6:00 p.m. CDT; updated 6:21 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 25, 2009

BRUSSELS — Anheuser-Busch InBev lost a battle for the "Budweiser" name after an EU court rejected Wednesday its claim to register the word as an exclusive Europe-wide trademark.

U.S.-based Anheuser-Busch — now renamed Anheuser-Busch InBev after a $52 billion takeover by Belgium's InBev — and smaller Czech rival Budejovicky Budvar NP haggled for years over the name, once also the name of a Czech town famous for its fine beers.

The European Court of First Instance upheld a 2007 decision, saying the right to use the famous "Budweiser" name has already been legally claimed by Anheuser-Busch's rival Czech brewer in several EU countries.

Budvar registered the name as a trademark in 1991 with the EU trademark agency, five years before Anheuser-Busch.

The EU court said the 2007 decision by the EU's trademark agency, which oversees both national and EU-wide trademarks was justified. The agency upheld Budvar's trademark in Austria and Germany and rejected Anheuser-Busch's appeal.

The court said the U.S. brewer's trademark application was "identical to the earlier international word mark 'Budweiser' protected" in the two countries.

Anheuser-Busch had argued it had the right to trademark the well known brand-name for "beer, ale, porter, malted alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages."

The court said that description was too similar to Budvar's earlier trademark for "Budweiser" using it for "beers of any kind."

Wednesday's ruling was the latest blow to Anheuser-Busch InBev over efforts to protect its brand-name assets on the European market.

Anheuser-Busch InBev also lost a case in December when the EU court scrapped a trademark for the brewer's famous "Bud" beer name in Europe.

Marianne Amssoms, spokeswoman at Anheuser-Busch InBev said the ruling did not pose problems to the company's operations in Europe.

"The decision ... has no effect on Anheuser-Bush InBev's existing, extensive Budweiser trademark rights throughout the European Union or the rest of the world," Amssoms said in an e-mailed statement.

She said the company "owns the right" to the Budweiser and Bud trademarks in 23 of 27 EU countries and added the court ruling would not cancel the trademarks in Germany or Austria.

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

Budvar's spokesman Petr Samec welcomed the decision which "will strengthen and stabilize our position within the EU," he said.

"We consider it a logical decision at a moment when Budejovicky Budvar has "Budweiser" trademarks registered in 19 EU countries."

Anheuser-Busch had filed several trademark applications between 1996 and 2000 to protect its most iconic beer brand "Budweiser" and "Bud." Its trademark had covered the use of the word "Bud" on signs, beer labels and promotional goods in the 27 nations of the EU.

The exclusive use of the famous names have seen a number of legal challenges by Budvar, which itself lays claim to the use of the brand and still brews beer in the southern Czech town of Ceske Budejovice — also known as Budweis.

It was not yet clear whether Anheuser-Busch will appeal the two rulings.

AP Writer Karel Janicek from Prague contributed to this report.

 


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