- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

This Bud’s for EU.

The World Trade Organization yesterday said Anheuser-Busch has rights to the “Budweiser” and “Bud” names in most European Union countries, overruling a Czech rival that claimed the name as a matter of geography and history.

The WTO ruling did not directly name Anheuser-Busch, based in St. Louis, or Budejovicky Budvar, a Czech brewery based in Ceske Budejovice, a town name that translates into the German word “Budweis” and is the origin of the Budweiser name.

But the decision applies to a long-running spat between the companies that brew the popular American and European lagers.

“The recent decision by the World Trade Organization is an important victory for Anheuser-Busch,” said Stephen J. Burrows, chief executive and president of Anheuser-Busch International, which sells under the Budweiser or Bud name in 20 of the 25 EU nations.

Anheuser-Busch began using the Budweiser trademark in 1876. The Czech town has been home to small brewers for centuries, but the brewery fighting with Anheuser-Busch was established in 1895.

The two have clashed occasionally since then, but the fight over the name began to escalate in the 1990s as Anheuser-Busch began distributing in post-communist Central Europe and the Czech brewery began marketing outside its borders. The Czech brewery sells its beers in the United States under the “Czechvar” label.

Yesterday’s WTO ruling deals with Europe’s system of geographic indications, which allows certain producers in Bordeaux, Parma and Roquefort, for example, exclusive rights to attach their region’s names to wines, hams and cheeses. About 700 such designations exist and cover product names in their native languages and in translation.

When the Czech Republic joined the European Union in 2004, it officially registered the name “Budejovicke pivo” — roughly translated as Budweis beer — and two other iterations of the name.

But Anheuser-Busch already had the trademark on “Bud” or “Budweiser” in most European Union member states. The WTO said the existing trademark can coexist with geographic indications. But the United States and Anheuser-Busch yesterday argued the ruling gives precedence to an established trademark over a new geographic indication and a company like Anheuser-Busch can stop confusing uses of its trademarked name.

“This decision by the WTO halts Budejovicky Budvar’s efforts to rely on this registration of ‘Budejovicke pivo’ to justify its use of the Budweiser name,” Mr. Burrows said.

Europe yesterday also claimed victory in the ruling, saying the WTO decision confirms that its geographic naming system is legal. Europe is trying to strengthen the system to protect its agricultural production and numerous delicacies from non-European substitutes trading on old-world names.

“By confirming that geographical indications are both legal and compatible with existing trademark systems, this WTO decision will help the EU to ensure wider recognition of geographical indications and protection of regional and local product identities,” said EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson.

But the WTO found the European Union unfair because non-Europeans cannot register their own names, like Florida oranges or Idaho potatoes, in Europe.

The Bush administration, which brought the case with Australia, hailed the decision as a victory for U.S. producers that may want protection offered by Europe’s geographical indications.

“We believed that, under WTO rules, U.S. farmers, ranchers and other food producers should have the same access to protection for ‘geographical indications’ as European food producers, and that the European system discriminated against us,” said acting U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier.

The WTO recommended that Europe alter its system to allow non-Europeans to register products. Europe did not say how or when it would.

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