BRUSSELS, Sept 22 Anheuser-Busch InBev ,
the world's largest brewer, should not be given sole use of the
trademark "Budweiser" in Britain and must share it with a
smaller Czech rival, Europe's highest court ruled.
The European Court of Justice said on Thursday the two
companies' long use of identical trade marks neither had, nor
was liable to have, an adverse effect on AB InBev's "Budweiser",
which was registered first.
"United Kingdom consumers are well aware of the difference
between Budvar's beers and those of Anheuser-Busch, since their
tastes, prices and get-ups have always been different," the
court said in a statement.
Anheuser-Busch, now part of AB InBev, has been in a
long-running dispute with Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar over
the rights to the terms "Budweiser" and "Bud" -- a David versus
Goliath litigation that has run on and off for a century.
Czech brewer Budvar entered the British market in 1973 and
U.S.-based Anheuser-Busch in 1974. The latter applied to have
the word "Budweiser" registered as a trademark in 1979. While
this was being examined, Budvar also submitted a trademark
application for its "Budweiser" in 1989.
British courts ruled in 2000 that both companies could each
register "Budweiser", which duly entered the Trade Marks
Register on May 19 of that year.
On May 18, 2005, one day short of five years later,
Anheuser-Busch asked the registry to have Budvar's trademark
declared invalid, because its own application for registering
the word "Budweiser" was made first.
The Court of Appeal in Britain asked the EU Court of Justice
to determine if Anheuser-Busch's bid to have its rival's
trademark declared invalid should be granted although both
companies had used the term "Budweiser" for more than 30 years.
In general, if a company acquiesces to the use of a
trademark by a rival for five years, it cannot challenge it.
The Court of Justice said the five-year period only began
after the registration of the later mark, in this case Budvar's.
AB InBev, which owns the rights to Budweiser or Bud
trademarks in 23 of the 27 EU states, said it was pleased with
the court's ruling that it had not acquiesced to Budvar's
registration of "Budweiser".
It said that even if it were unsuccessful with its case in
Britain, it would not negatively affect its Budweiser trademark
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Rex Merrifield)