Last summer I had the privilege of traveling to London, England to visit with an old friend and her husband. While there we participated in the grand, historical tradition of pub crawling that the British, both young and old, have truly turned into an expert art form. While in a pub with several of my friend’s “mates” one of them ordered a Budweiser at the bar. His order struck a certain patriotic chord in me but giving my boastfulness of having an American craft beer podcast I was curious why he wanted to drink one of the worst beers that “the colonies” had to offer. I’m not sure if the order was intentional or not but he mentioned that like many things we Yankees take for granted the American Budweiser was not the only nor original Budweiser. That there was town in the Czech Republic called České Budějovice (Budweis) that has brewed since 1785 long before the American lager was introduced in 1876.
Anheuser-Busch wants exclusive use of the term to prevent market confusion. While it might seem particularly stupid to demand that a beer named after the city it was brewed in market confusion between the American and European beers with the same name has happened before. The Bohemian brewers and their American counterparts agreed in 1907 that Anheuser-Busch could use the term Budweiser only in North America and that the brewers in Budweis could market their beers as Budweiser only in Europe.1 This deal was further extended in 2007 when Anheuser-Busch signed a deal with Budějovický Budvar, the maker of the Czech Budweiser (shown in the attached photo) to import the beer to the United States under the name “Czechvar”.
This partnership was ended in 2012 and United States Beverage began importing “Czechvar” into the United States instead of AB InBev. While I am not a lawyer I imagine their objection to the use of the Budweiser name in Europe by the Budweis breweries is slightly weakened by the gentleman’s agreement of the use in separate territories and importing the beer they are objecting to the use of their trademark.
Anheuser-Busch and its later incarnation AB InBev have brought a total of 124 trademark cases against the Czech Budweiser Budvar through the end of 2012. Of the 124 Budvar won 89 of the cases and 8 ended in a draw or were settled out of court. Currently the trademark has been awarded to Budvar in a verdict from the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2010. But there were still 40 cases open as of 2012 where AB InBev is still fighting for the exclusive right to the trademark.
It appears that if AB InBev cannot win their trademark battles in court that they are willing to just throw money at the problem. CBSNews is reporting that AB InBev has recently bought the other brewery in Budweis, Samson, to bolster its right to use the term Budweiser in European markets.
AB InBev had previously purchased the parent company of Samson giving it the right to use the term Budweiser within the Czech Republic but in the new deal will be taking over Samson’s production (so long quality!) and experts suspect this move is not about the beer but about bolstering the company’s legal position when claiming the right to use Budweiser in other countries.
Thankfully the Budvar brewery is state-owned and unlikely to be swallowed by the international brewing behemoth for the sake of settling trademark disputes. They announced that the deal would not affect their business or use of the Budweiser name.
Remember kids, if you can’t beat your enemy you can always buy them and destroy them despite a rich 200-year-old history. All in sake of maintaining the global reputation of your embarrassingly terrible brand. Because when anyone in the world thinks of Budweiser we wouldn’t want them picturing an authentic Bohemian lager from a beautiful brewery. No, we want to picture a bunch of frat boys overindulging in barely alcoholic piss water while extolling the virtues of their “ice-cold” beer offering refuge from those terribly “bitter beers.” Clearly we want to maintain the brand of “wassup” for the auspicious halls of history.