BRUSSELS, Sept 22 (Reuters) - 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 there. (Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Rex Merrifield)