Austrian blow to Budvar trademark
Budvar has brewed the Czech version of Budweiser since 1895. The company, which is still owned by the Czech government, has registered the "Bud" or "Budweiser" trademarks in 37 countries, including Austria. It has been engaged in legal wrangles for more than a century with Anheuser-Busch, the American brewer of the other Budweiser. The Budvar brewery opened in 1895, several decades after Anheuser-Busch launched its beer in the U.S. But for centuries beers from the Bohemian town of Budweis -- now called Ceske Budejovice -- were known by the generic name of Budweiser. A second brewery in the town, Mestansky, also uses the Budweiser trademark and both breweries have been given a seal of authenticity of origin by the European Union.
The Austrian court sought advice from Europe's highest court, the European Court of Justice. In its ruling, the ECJ said the Austrian court must determine what sort of protection the Czech company's Austrian trademark accorded to "Bud". If the trademark merely related the beer to the Czech Republic then its trademark can be protected, the ECJ said. But if the protection includes specific characteristics, such as brewing conditions, ingredients or taste, then it will have no protection under Austrian law, as this type of protection is now provided by EU-wide law, it added.
Should the Austrian court find that the Czech Budweiser protection does apply to wider characteristics -- as the court has hinted is likely -- it would set a legal precedent, opening the door for ABInBev to make legal challenges to Budvar's other Budweiser or Bud trademarks and appellations of origin in other countries.
ABInBev welcomed the ruling as a clear victory. "It provides Anheuser-Busch with a clear and decisive victory in Austria and improves our trademark rights in other European markets," spokeswoman Karen Couck said.
But in London, Tony Jennings, chief executive of Budweiser Budvar UK, which markets the Czech beers in Britain, said it was "business as usual". Britain is the only major country where a court has ruled that both the American and Czech beers can use the full Budweiser trademark.