Czechs win Budweiser name in Europe


The dispute over the Budweiser name in Europe is now over. The European Court of Justice upheld the opposition by the Czech company Budějovický Budvar to an application by the American company Anheuser-Busch to register the Budweiser trademark for beer.

Judgment of the European Court of Justice dated 29 July 2010, Anheuser-Busch Inc. v. Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (Case C-214/09 P).

The Budweiser battle has historical foundations. The Czech beer sold as Budweiser Budvar has been brewed in the Bohemian city now known as České Budějovice (in German, Budweis) since the 13th century. The American company Anheuser-Busch was founded by German immigrants in the 19th century. Inspired by the German name for Budějovice, Anheuser-Busch introduced the Budweiser brand of beer onto the American market in 1876. After over a century, the world grew smaller and the two brands met on the same markets. Then the long battle for control of the Budweiser brand began.

Registration of a Community trademark, which would give the holder protection in all EU member states, was particularly important to the two contenders. In 1996 Anheuser-Busch filed an application with the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) to register the word sign “Budweiser” for beer. Unsurprisingly, Budějovický Budvar promptly filed a notice of opposition, citing prior use of the name as a trademark and appellation of origin. After consideration through all instances, the ECJ finally upheld the opposition by Budějovický Budvar.

The justification for the ruling stresses the practical aspects of disputes over conflicting trademarks. The primary emphasis by the court was on the importance of gathering evidence to show genuine use of the trademark. The court also clarified the holding in earlier case law that use of a different but similar trademark belonging to the same holder does not prove genuine use of the disputed mark.

The ruling illustrates the problems that trademark holders may encounter and what they need to consider when developing their brand policy. First, they need to choose a trademark that does not conflict with an earlier trademark held by another user. Second, the mark must be filed for registration promptly. Third, protection should be sought for all countries where the brand may be used, even if the product is not offered initially on all of the markets. Fourth, it is important to gather evidence of genuine use of the mark, which may be decisive in the future to maintain the user’s own rights or prevent rights to the mark from being awarded to a third party.

The ECJ’s ruling in the Budweiser case demonstrates once more how far-sighted company must be when planning their brand development strategy and using their trademarks.