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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Budvar Slaps Down InBud

The ever-more-steroidal American Belgian Budweiser just can't take down the mighty mouse in Budweis, Czech Republic:
LUXEMBOURG, March 25 (Reuters) - A European Union court on Wednesday upheld a ruling denying Anheuser-Busch Inbev the right to register the Budweiser name as a trade mark in the EU.

U.S. brewer Anheuser-Busch, bought by Belgian counterpart Inbev last year, applied for an EU trade mark in 1996 for the name "Budweiser" for its "beer, ale, porter, malted alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages."

The application was opposed by Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar, which makes beer marketed in the European Union as Budweiser Budvar, or Czechvar in North America.

Budvar's opposition was upheld by the European trade mark office, OHIM. After a failed appeal at OHIM, Anheuser-Busch took the case to the Luxembourg-based EU Court of First Instance.

Pilsners were born in the Czech republic in the 1840s and named for the town of their origin--Plzen. The style spread across Bohemia (and ultimately, the world) and was taken up by breweries in Budweis. What follows is a classic American story. In the 1870s, Adolphus Busch visited Bohemia and returned to the US with an idea about developing a style based on these beers at his father-in-law, Eberhard Anheuser's, brewery. They decided to name it "Budweiser," after the city they had found it in. Of course, the local beer made in Budweis was also called Budweiser. But the wily American managed to beat the makers of the indigenous brew to the legal punch: Busch trademarked the name before the brewery we now know as České Budějovice--aka "Budweiser."

The dispute has been ongoing for over a hundred years, surviving the Habsburg Empire, two world wars, communism, and now democracy and the EU. At issue: can a foreign country raid a traditional product, establish trademark, and essentially displace the original? For decades the dispute has been a draw: Budvar can be sold under the Budweiser name in the EU, but not the US, where it's marketed as Czechvar. The US product is sold in the EU under the name "Bud." (Interestingly, both are sold as Budweiser in the UK.)

Yesterday's news is yet the latest chapter in the ongoing battle. For what it's worth, from where I sit, the deal seems to be settled as best as it can. No company will ever relinquish rights to the name on their home soil, and the countries won't allow an interloper to threaten local hegemony. We have reached, however uncomfortable it is for the two parties, equilibrium, 21st-Century style.


  1. Adding to your background notes...

    Czech lands were long a part of the Holy Roman Empire and there were large populations of both German-speaking and Czech-speaking people.

    To accommodate both of these populations many signs and labels were bilingual: Budvar for Czech-speakers, Budweiser for German-speakers.

    Here's where things get absurd.

    After WW2, the Czechs drove most of the Germans out of Czech lands even though the resident Germans had been living there peacefully for generations. To further entrench their claims towns that had large German populations were renamed to affirm their Czechness. The town called Budějovice (Czech) or Budweis (German) was renamed České Budějovice which means Czech Budějovice.

    The Czech brewery is fighting to retain its German name when not too long ago Czechs were doing everything possible to expunge any reminder of their German history.

    Meanwhile, US Budweiser started an advertising campaign to rebrand their beer as Bud.

    The successful campaign resulted in a significant increase in sales as drunks overwhelmingly chose the easily pronounced Bud over the comparatively confounding Miller Genuine Draft (resulting in its later rebranding as MGD).

    So you've got one big fight over a name no one really wants.

  2. You misspelled Beligion… :P


  3. Thanks--I fixed it in the text.

  4. Aww… I was hoping you'd take my suggestion. :)

    OTOH, a Beligian could refer to a Belgian worshipper… counted amongst them, I consider InBev's classification as Belgian an affront to all things good and holy. Belgians everywhere - pales, goldens, dubbels, trippels and quads alike - should stand up and fight this monstrosity, lest they be absorbed by it.