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Budvar hails 'historic trademark victory' as Italian court slams global giant AB InBev

Added: Wednesday, October 9th 2013

AB InBev

The Czech Budweiser Budvar Brewery has hailed "a historic victory" against its arch rival American Budweiser following a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court that the Americans can no longer sell their beer using the full trademark. It will have to be rebranded “Bud” for the Italian market while the Czechs can sell Budvar using the full Budweiser title.

The court case was initiated by Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), owners of the American beer. But the Italian Supreme Court on 8 October ruled in favour of Budvar and its Italian importers. The judges declared the American trademark to be “deceptive” and removed it from the trademark register.

As a result of the ruling, the Czech beer can now use the full trademark and will no longer be branded as “Czechvar”. Since 1985, Anheuser-Busch has launched a series of lawsuits in an attempt to stop the Czech beer being sold under its full name in Italy. As a result of a preliminary injunction in 2002, Budvar was forced to sell its beer as Czechvar in Italy, which cut its sales by half. Until 2002, Italy had been Budvar’s fifth most important export market.

But the Supreme Court has now ruled in favour of Budvar and its importers and the rulings are final.

Budvar director Jiri Bocek declared the ruling to be a “great victory.” Speaking from the brewery in Ceské Budejovice – also known by its old German name of Budweis -- Mr Bocek said: “We can return to the Italian market with our original Budweiser Budvar trademark and our competitor must stop using the Budweiser trademark there.”

As Italy is a large beer market, Mr Bocek considers AB InBev’s defeat will represent its biggest loss in the century-old legal dispute between the two breweries and the rights to the trademark.

Budvar legal representative Lukas Lorenc said: “The battle of Italy was a long and difficult one. In the end we were rewarded by a breakthrough legal verdict. The Supreme Court, in layman’s terms, has stopped the consumer being deceived by a trademark that is not related to Ceské Budejovice at all.”

Budvar’s Italian solicitor Stefano de Bosio thinks the court ruling could have wider implications and could set a precedent in other trademark disputes where historic or original names of towns, countries are localities are concerned. He said: “This is not only a key decision for Budvar but is also a general milestone in the perception of a conflict between traditional geographical designations and commercial activities. The Italian Supreme Court now says that using traditional names illegitimately is not allowed as it results in customer deception. According to the court, historic names are entitled to protection in the same way as current official names.”

Legal disputes over the Budweiser trademark have rumbled on since 1907. Budvar has been the clear winner. Between 2000 and 2012, 173 legal disputes were finalised, with Budvar winning 120 and 10 finishing in a settlement or draw. As a result of Budvar registering both Budweiser and Budweiser Budvar, the global brewery AB InBev cannot use its trademark in close to 70 countries.

Below, the Budvar brewhouse with its classic copper vessels.

Budvar brewwhouse