Beer Battle

Published December 26, 2012

It’s the real-world equivalent of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, the fictional lawsuit Charles Dickens wrote about in Bleak House. The Jarndyce case in the chancery courts in Britain dragged on for so many generations the legal fees devoured the probate estate over which the parties were haggling.

Evidently there’s no risk of that outcome in the litigation between Czech beer brewer Budejovicky Budvar (“Budvar”) and Anheuser Busch over exclusive rights to use of the name “Budweiser.” There are 61 lawsuits pending between the two companies in 11 countries, with the first case filed in 1906. A possible global settlement fell apart recently.

Since 1265, beer has been brewed in Ceske Budejovice, a German-speaking city in the Czech Republic called Budweis for short. Beer brewed there has been called Budweiser for centuries. Budvar was founded in 1895 and has been selling beer it calls Budweiser ever since then.

Anheuser-Busch began producing the beer it calls Budweiser in America in 1876; AB itself was founded in 1852 and is now part of AB InBev.

The parties last reached a settlement in 1939, giving AB exclusive rights to use of the name Budweiser in the Americas north of Panama, but that agreement fell apart as each company sought to expand into new markets.

Currently, AB brews its Budweiser in more than 15 countries, and it is sold in 80 countries, with its key markets in the United States, China, Canada, and Britain. Budvar has rights in Germany and 67 other countries, including most of Europe plus eleven Asian countries including Japan, Korea, China, and Vietnam.

The two companies share the name Budweiser in Britain. AB lost an attempt to get exclusive rights to the name. AB was not pleased: “Our concern is that coexistence on the U.K. market with the Budweiser brand will lead to consumer confusion,” said Karen Couck, the spokeswoman for AB Inbev. “We want to make sure that when our customers order a Budweiser that they receive the clean, crisp taste of the global brand we have created.”

But a British consumer rights advocate says there is little likelihood of confusion between the two products. Budvar’s has “a full bodied taste” while “AB’s Budweiser has little taste, or in the words of AB InBev, a clean taste,” he said. “Customers know which beer is which.”

Source: Karel Janicek, “Century-old fight for Budweiser name hits new snag,” Associated Press, December 18, 2012