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EU Court: AB InBev, Budvar Can Both Use Budweiser Trademark

Beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (BUD) and smaller Czech rival Budejovicky Budvar can both use 'Budweiser' as a trademark in the U.K., Europe's highest court ruled Thursday, in the latest round of a long-running feud over the rights to the Budweiser name.

"United Kingdom consumers are well aware of the difference between Budvar's beers and those of Anheuser-Busch," the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice said in a statement after the ruling.

The companies have both used 'Budweiser' as a brand name for many years and both registered the name as a trademark in 2000.

However, just a day ahead of the expiry of a five-year time limit, Anheuser-Busch challenged Budvar's mark as invalid, on the grounds that -- despite both marks being registered on the same day -- Anheuser-Busch had filed its application earlier.

The court said Wednesday that a later-registered trademark can be declared invalid only if it alters, or could alter, the earlier mark's effectiveness in guaranteeing "to consumers the origin of the goods covered by it."

But in this case, it said, Anheuser-Busch and Budvar "had each marketed their beers in the U.K. using the sign 'Budweiser' or a trademark including that sign for almost 30 years prior to registration." It added that "both of those companies have from the beginning used their Budweiser trademarks in good faith."

The case still needs to be finalized by a British court, based on the EU court's judgment.

The state-owned Czech brewer is engaged in a global intellectual property battle over the 'Budweiser' and 'Bud' trademarks and appellations of origin with Anheuser-Busch Inc., now part of Belgian brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Legal battles involving Budvar and Anheuser-Busch have been ongoing for a century, intensifying since the end of the Czech communist government when Budvar's exports grew substantially. In the U.K. however, the dispute only became an issue in the late 1970s, when Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser beer became widely available in the country.

A case over rights to the 'Bud' trademark in Europe is still under consideration at a lower European court, the General Court.

23 Sep. 2011

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