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Name Games: Budweiser vs. Budweiser

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The King of Beers has an army of lawyers defending its American name.

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In 1876, Adolphus Busch of St. Louis, Missouri began selling a beer called Budweiser, after the German name -- Budweis -- for the Czech city of Budejovice.

Budweiser

In 1894, Czech brewery Budejovicky Budvar, located in Budejovice, began brewing its own Budweiser, which, like the American version, meant "from Budweis."

Budvar


And that was the beginning of a trademark war that fascinated beer lovers -- and attorneys -- for years to come.

As the story goes, in 1907, Anheuser-Busch trademarked the name Budweiser, which led to a battle between the two companies, which was finally worked out at a trade fair in 1911. John Harley, UK CEO of Budvar explained to Brand Channel, "We had an agreement that we wouldn't sell our beer north of the Panama Canal and they wouldn't sell their beer in Europe."

Budvar stayed out of the US market, first by choice, and then by Prohibition. During World War II, production was taken over by the Nazis, who halted exports altogether. After the war, Budvar's life as a private enterprise was short-lived, as it was soon taken over by the Soviet-controlled Czech government, which mandated that it distribute its beer to export markets only, namely Western Europe.

In the late 1970s, when the American Budweiser eventually began to feel pressure from competitors in its existing markets, parent company Anheuser-Busch decided to engage Budvar in a battle on its own turf.

Stephen J. Burrows, President and COO of Anheuser-Busch, told a reporter, "Anheuser-Busch has the unchallenged rights to the Budweiser trademark in most of the world. Our differences are largely confined to Europe and some countries in North Africa."

But this did not please Budvar, which decided to begin defending its rights to the Budweiser name.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the two companies fought for decades, with A-B's push for a European Union trademark beginning in 1996.

Interestingly enough, capitalistic concerns trumped ego in 2007, when Anheuser-Busch and Budvar entered into an agreement by which A-B would become the sole US distributor of Budvar's Budweiser, sold under the name Czechvar.

Though this gave Budvar/Czechvar (or, Budweiser, depending on with whom your loyalties lie) an entrée into the American beer market, the two companies continued to lock horns over use of the Budweiser name.

Finally, in July, 2010, a decision was handed down by the European Court of Justice, which put a stop to years upon years of bickering.

Anheuser-Busch has been using the names Budweiser and Bud in 23 of 27 European countries, and will be permitted to continue doing so. In an unusual twist, Budvar's Budweiser, which simultaneously used the name Budweiser, was granted permission to continue using the moniker as well, which, wrote the Journal, "prompts bartenders to ask patrons whether they want a Czech Budweiser or an American Budweiser."

In the remaining four EU countries, there exists something of a split decision. In Greece, Anheuser has rights to the Bud trademark, but not Budweiser; in Ireland it has rights to both Bud and Budweiser. In Ireland, Budvar is permitted only to sell its beer under the label Budejovicky Budvar.

In a clear win for Budvar, the brewery was given total control over the gigantic beer markets of Germany and Austria, which left A-B scrambling for a solution. The company is now fighting for permission to sell its product in those countries under the "Bud" label.

Budweiser
The ruling also took quite a bit of pressure off of Budvar, which no longer faces trademark challenges and lawsuits from Anheuser-Busch in territories that were once in dispute.

So, the next time you're out at a pub in Dublin, you can discuss the ins-and-outs of this battle royal over a cold bottle of Budejovicky Budvar. Or, if you happen to be in Greece, a Bud. Or a Budweiser. Thing is, if you're in England, a Bud will have to do. Unless, of course, you're in the mood for a Budweiser. In which case, make sure you specify to the bartender exactly which one you're talking about.

If you even know, by this point.

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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