Budvar wins in Italy
Czech brewer able to use again Budweiser trademark
The seemingly endless global legal dispute regarding ownership of the Budweiser trademark has come to its conclusion in Italy. The country’s Supreme Court this month ruled in favour of Budějovický Budvar over competing claims from Anheuser-Busch InBev, ending more than a decade of legal manoeuvrings.
In 2001 what would have then been Anheuser-Busch filed a lawsuit against the Italian importers of Budějovický Budvar, demanding, inter alia, that they stop using the words ‘Bud’ and ‘Budweiser’ when selling beer. A year later a second lawsuit was filed by A-B, seeking the removal of Budějovický Budvar’s trademarks with the Budweiser element from the Italian register.
The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of Budějovický Budvar in both instances, with the decisions allowing it to reintroduce its Budweiser Budvar branding. A preliminary injunction had forced the Czech brewer to use alternative brandings, initially Czechvar and latterly the Budějovický Budvar name.
According to director Jiří Boček, these changes resulted in Budvar’s sales being cut in half by 2002, whereas the year before Italy had been the brewer’s fifth largest export market.
“This is a great victory. We can return to the Italian market with our original Budweiser Budvar trademark,” said Boček. “In addition the court banned ABI from using their Budweiser trademark in Italy, declaring it a deceptive one and removing it from the trademark register. Therefor our competitor must stop selling Budweiser beer in Italy.”
AB InBev said in a statement that it was disappointed by the Italian Supreme Court decision and that it is considering its legal options. It noted that while the decision does not include an order prohibiting its use of the Budweiser name, it will switch to branding its beer as Bud to ensure supply to its Italian customers.
ABI added that while Italy is a growing market for premium beers, the country’s volumes today are not material in the context of group volumes.
For those keeping score at home, Budějovický Budvar claims that during the period between 2000 and 2012, 173 legal disputes and administrative procedures have been finalised, with it winning in 120 instances and 10 others finishing in a settlement or draw.
The trademark dispute is deep-rooted. The American brewer was the first to register the Budweiser trademark, in 1878, 17 years before the brewery now known as Budvar emerged. For its part, Budějovický Budvar argues that it has a geographical right to the name. The town in which it is based, Ceske Budejovice, was formally known by its German name, Budweis, and has a brewing tradition dating back to the 13th century.