In 1795 a group of German settlers has established a new brewery named Budweiser Bürgerbräu in a town of České Budějovice (Budweis in German), located in the present day in Czech Republic. The establishment proved to be quite successful and since 1870s the beer has been exported not only to many European destinations, but to the United States as well. In 1882 the company registered its first trademarks, including Budweiser Export-Lager-Bier.
In 1852 a brewery, which later became the main production facility of Anheuser-Busch, began its operation in Saint Louis, Missouri. Inspired by the beer imported from České Budějovice, the Americans have begun to produce similar product and registered a mark Budweiser in the United States in 1878. The beer quickly became popular.
To make thing even more complicated, in 1895 a new brewery, called Budějovický Budvar, has been set up in České Budějovice. It began to sell beer named Budweiser and registered Oryginal Bohemian Beer mark in 1937.
The controversy between the Czech and American Anheuser-Busch breweries came as all three companies began to export more goods, with one or two different Budweisers coming to one market. Budweiser Bürgerbräu and Budějovický Budvar argued that the Budweiser brand does not refer to the kind of beer, but is an adjective derived from the name of town České Budějovice. Therefore, it should not be used by a brewery established and maintained in Saint Louis, Missouri. Anheuser-Busch argued in numerous cases that it has been producing beer under the name Budweiser since 1876, while the Budvar brewery only since 1895. The counter-argument was that the name Budweis dates back to 1265 when the city of Budejovice was founded by the king Przemyslaw Ottokar.
In 1911 the first preliminary agreement has been reached when the Czech breweries allowed the Anheuser-Busch brewery to use the Budweiser name on non-European markets. In 1939 Anheuser-Busch obtained from the Czech brewers the exclusive right to use the Budweiser mark on the American market, in exchange for a similar guarantee for the other parties in Europe.
The both agreements of 1911 and 1939, remain still in force. However, their wording is not precise and the list of mentioned marks non-exclusive. As a result, the problems with the coexisting confusing marks were not fully solved.
As the vast majority of Germans has been expelled from the Czechoslovakia after 1945, Budweiser Bürgerbräu has been nationalized and all references to its German past were not welcomed. For this reason the brewery began selling its beers under Crystal and Samson brands, while the Budweiser mark was continuously used by only by Budějovický Budvar.
In 1996, Anheuser-Busch applied to the EU Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (now known as European Union Intellectual Property Office – EUIPO) for registration of the Bud and Budweiser trademarks. In 2004 EUIPO refused to issue a European Union trade mark for all 25 countries because of the identical name being already registered in some European Union countries’ national trademark and patent offices. The appeal of the American concern was based on the earlier registration of a trademark on the territory of the European Union. It should be noted that Anheuser-Busch has registered Budweiser trade mark in various member states of the European Union as early as in 1979, whereas the Czech competitors, which were nationalized by the communist regime after the World War II, were able to do so only in 1989. As the centrally planned economy was not particularly competition-oriented, the communist authorities of Czechoslovakia were not interested in registering trademarks in foreign jurisdictions, even though some products, including Budweiser beer, were exported and sold under their original brands. In 2006 the application of Anheuser-Busch was rejected because Budějovický Budvar, acting as an opposing party, was able to provide evidence of using the name Budweiser for at least five years before the application for registration by Anheuser-Busch.
Anheuser-Busch lodged also four applications at EUIPO for registration of the figurative and word mark Bud as a European Union trade mark for certain kinds of goods, including beer. The application has been opposed by Budvar in respect of all the goods specified. EUIPO agreed to register Bud as a mark owned by Anheuser-Busch. However, this decision was revoked in 2008 by the EU Court of First Instance in Luxembourg.
After the fall of communism Budweiser Bürgerbräu was able to restore its rights to use various previously owned trademarks, including Budweiser Bier. However, in 2011 Anheuser-Busch acquired the trademark rights from the brewery.
On 22 January 2013, after years of legal battle, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that within the EU the abbreviation Bud is exclusive to the US product. Although the Czech brewery had previously protected this designation legally in a number of EU countries (including France and Austria), the protected designation was too little used, as the court argued. The full name Budweiser, however, still belongs to Budvar.
Meanwhile the mark Bud was also opposed by Bitburger, a German brewery established in 1817 in the town of Bitburg, located in the present-day Rhineland-Palatinate (1 of 16 states of Germany), arguing that it was too similar to the company Bit brand. On October 19, 2006, the EU Court of First Instance rejected the German brewery’s objection, recognizing that the visual, phonetic and conceptual differences between the signs at issue are sufficient to exclude any likelihood of confusion.
The legal battle over Budweiser continues to this day around the globe. In some countries the mark is owned by the legal successors of Anheuser-Bush, whereas in others by one of the Czech breweries. The complex and unsolved case of Budweiser clearly proves how important it is to protect trademarks and to register them as quickly as possible in various jurisdictions, in order to avoid huge loses in the future, when the competitors take advantage of our sluggishness.
Piotr Sliwinski is an Intellectual Property Associate based in the Warsaw, Poland office of LegalForce RAPC Worldwide. He graduated in law from the Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw and in sociology from the University of Warsaw. In 2016 he earned his Master of Laws at the University of Bonn in Germany. Moreover, in recognition of his academic achievements he had been sponsored two semesters at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. Piotr is fluent in Polish, English, and German. He also speaks Russian.