Beer "buddies" keep fighting on

  • 2001-02-08
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - In the ongoing court battle of the beers Ð American Budweiser and Czech Republic's Budweiser Budvar Ð the older, Czech version, racked up another set of victories in January. This time in the Latvian Supreme Court.

The two brands have fought from Latvia's Patent Office, through Riga's Regional Court and up to the Supreme Court, which decided last month to uphold the prior two instances' decision that the Czech brewery now fully enjoys the exclusive right to use the Budweiser trademark in Latvia.

This is the second victory for the Czech beer in a short time. U.S. brewer Anheuser-Busch, with Budweiser as its flagship, lost recently in Switzerland as well. Anheuser-Busch tried, without success, to register the trademarks Bud King of Beers and BUD there. The patent office turned them down following objections from Ceske Budejovice.

Linda Ambroza, spokeswoman for the Latvian PR firm RKT Publicitate, which represents the Czech beer in Latvia, said the response from the Czech side, of course, is one of joy.

"Both cases confirm Budejovice Budvar's historic right to the beer's name and mark a strengthening of the company's business positions on the respective markets," Budejovice Budvar's CEO Jiri Bocek told reporters in the Czech Republic.

Back in 1265, King Premysl Otakar II founded a city he called Ceske Budejovice (Budweis in German), an important city in his kingdom. To accentuate this he gave the city a few privileges, and one of them was the right to brew beer. Beer sales picked up gradually over the years and spread throughout Europe. Still, the official name Budweiser Budvar didn't appear until June 24, 1895, which is 19 years after the name Budweiser showed up in the United States.

In 1857 German immigrant Adolphus Busch arrived in St. Louis, where he married Eberhard Anheuser's daughter, Lilly. Busch started working at his father-in-law's brewery in 1864 and 16 years later Busch became president of the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association.

Soon after the company began producing Budweiser, the court battle began. Since 1911 the brewers have been fighting each other ever since in nearly every country where they are trying to get market shares.

In Latvia, American Budweiser is sold only in bottles. About 5,000 bottles were sold in Latvia last year, according to local distributors.

As in the rest of Europe, the beer is sold here under the name Bud, a label change the company made in light of the lawsuits.

Frank Z. Hellwig, senior associate general council for Anheuser-Busch companies, told The Baltic Times late last year that the dispute between Budweiser and Budweiser Budvar had been going on in Latvia for some years.

"They (Budweiser Budvar) are trying to have our Budweiser registration canceled in Latvia," said Hellwig. "So to retaliate, we have filed for their brand to be canceled in Latvia."

When asked if it is possible that Adolphus Busch took the name Budweiser from the Czech city Ceske Budejovice before he immigrated to the United States, Hellwig said Busch only chose that particular name because there was a large German population living in St. Louis at that time, and "Budweiser sounds German."

The battle in Latvia may have been won by the Czech brewery, but the war is far from over. The two companies are still engaged in some 40 court cases and more than 40 administrative proceedings before patent offices worldwide.