The Century-Old Battle over Budweiser

April 7, 2013

budTo most American beer drinkers, there’s only one Budweiser. Go to the Czech Republic, however, and you might be in for a bit of surprise. Since 1895 the brewing company Budejovicky Budvar has been making a beer called Budweiser. And no, they didn’t just rip the name off from the iconic AB Inbev brand. The brewery operates in a region of the Czech Republic called Budweiser, where people have been brewing beer since 1295. In fact, the region’s proud brewing tradition so charmed Anheuser-Busch co-founder Adolphus Busch that he took its name for his flagship beer.

Soon enough, though, trouble began to brew between the two companies. Their first legal skirmish occurred 106 years ago and they’ve been at each other’s throats ever since. The most recent clash happened towards the end of 2012, ultimately resulting in a communication breakdown before a settlement could be finalized. The issue at hand concerns exclusive naming rights. Whether or not one company can use the Budweiser name depends on the country they’re selling in. For instance, Budvar holds naming rights for the brand in 68 countries, forcing AB Inbev to market their beer simply as “Bud.” Conversely, in the U.S. Budvar sells their beer under the name “Czechvar.”

Only in Great Britain can both companies label their beer as Budweiser. A court decision determined that consumers could easily tell which beer was which. The ruling described Budvar’s brew as “full bodied” while it somewhat derided AB Inbev’s product as having “little taste.” The decision presents little concern for a niche brand like Budvar, but it could have significant impact on AB Inbev’s global brand power. Since the conglomerate is missing out on greater sales in a number of countries, it is in their best interest to gain exclusive naming rights. Budvar, on the other hand, has little to gain by pursuing brand dominance since it is happy to maintain its discerning core market. So far that leverage has been essential to the company’s legal standing, leading Budvar to victory in 88 of 124 disputes between 2000 and 2011.

 

Questions:

  1. Why is this trademark case being tried in so many different countries?
  1. Why do companies fight so hard to protect their trademarks?

 

Source: Karel Janicek, “Century-Old Fight for Budweiser Name Hits New Snag,” Associated Press, December 18, 2012. Photo courtesy of Debarshi Ray.

 

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