The World’s Longest-Running Trademark Dispute

December 18th, 2008

I don’t know for a fact that the fight between Anheuser-Busch and Budejovicky Budvar NP over the marks “Budweiser” and “Bud” is officially the oldest continually active trademark dispute in the world (Erik?), but it must be close.

The Budvar brewery was founded in 1895.  The beer was named for the Germanized version of the city in which it was founded, Budweis (České Budějovice in Czech).  Distribution was extremely limited until the second half of the twentieth century.  Anheuser-Busch was founded in the 1850s and introduced the Budweiser brand in 1876.

For decades the two brands existed in parallel, using very similar names and script for their logos, but not directly competing on a large scale.  That changed when Anheuser started selling Budweiser in Europe in earnest and the two companies have been playing a real-world version of the game Risk ever since, locking up trademark rights country by country.  Budvar obtained first rights in Czechoslovakia, France and Austria and Anheuser had primary rights in the US.

Anheuser won in Australia, New Zealand and 23 or 27 EU member states, among others.  Budvar won in Japan, but seems to be losing the war.  This week, though, a European Union court denied Anheuser’s move to register the Budweiser mark across the EU.

It may not be much more than a symbolic victory for Budvar.  One has to think that the cost of litigation is a much bigger issue for tiny Budvar than for giant Anheuser, now owned by mega-giant InBev.  The multi-jurisdiction chess match is fascinating to watch, though.

[Full disclosure: I once carried a six pack of Czech Budweiser home from Prague]

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