Anheuser-Busch InBev’s campaign to stop a smaller Czech rival from using the Budweiser name ended in defeat at the European Court of Justice.
Budejovicky Budvar introduced its Budweiser beer to the UK in 1973, a year before the US lager of the same name entered the market.
But A-B InBev was the first to register the name as a trademark, prompting a lengthy battle over the rights to the name that has also played out in several other countries where the brands co-exist.
In a ruling, the court said that Budvar did not have an adverse effect on the American brand. “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,” it said.
Trademark lawyer Piers Strickland said: “These two companies have been slugging it out since the 1970s. Most companies don’t want to spend millions of pounds over several decades over their trademarks.
“It’s a very unusual dispute but ultimately it’s established some important points of trademark law. There can be concurrent rights: in other words, two companies can trade lawfully under the same marks.”
Strickland said trademark disputes were relatively common in the food and drink industry. He advised producers to apply for trademark protection as quickly as possible and to be aware there is a five-year deadline for competitors to register objections.
A spokesman for Anheuser-Busch InBev told FoodManufacture.co.uk:
"The Court of Justice issued its decision … finding that in the UK, Anheuser-Busch InBev had not acquiesced under the rules of the EU trademark directive to the registration of the word mark Budweiser by Budejovicky Budvar. We are pleased with this finding which endorses the opinion we have argued consistently in the proceedings in the UK.
"At the same time the Court ruled that the concept of honest concurrent use may have a role in cases such as the one at hand. The case will now be returned to the UK Court of Appeals where it will be determined whether the doctrine of honest concurrent use should prevent cancellation of Budejovicky Budvar’s Budweiser.”