What's in a name? WTO ruling opens new chapter in battle over taste 'Buds'


Budejovicky Budvar, the only major brewery still in the hands of the Czech state, has been locked in a lengthy battle with the world's largest brewer — Anheuser-Busch of the U.S. — over the Budweiser name for nearly a hundred years.

The American brewery Anheuser-Busch began using the name "Budweiser"— the German name for Budvar's home town of Cesky Budejovice — in 1876. Practically ever since, the trademark dispute has been fought in a courtroom somewhere in the world.

Well, the American brewer got a nice Christmas gift from the World Trade Organisation this week. The WTO ruled that the European Union can only protect existing regional food names, thus preventing the 25-member bloc that the Czechs joined in May this year from extending its registration system further.

The chief executive of Anheuser-Busch called it an "important victory" for the brewer, as it means that geographic translations cannot be translated, and so "Budeweiser" or "Bud" beer, registered in 20 of the 25 EU nations, cannot be challenged by Budejovicky Budvar, which claims the name as a translation of its beer, "Budvar".

Claude Veron-Reville, a spokesperson for the EU Trade Commissioner, says the while the US was pleased with the ruling, it is not a simple "victory".

"There is no clear cut victory — or defeat — in a WTO panel. A WTO panel is a complex, legal analysis and it is true that some technical points of the panel found in favour of the United States. For example, the US expressed satisfaction because — on the technical issue regarding procedure to have their own geographical indication protected in the EU — the WTO said that we should clarify our laws."

The EU system, for example, limits Kalamata olives, Welsh lamb and Norman camembert to their original origins. Only since the early 1990s have foreign producers been bale to register their products under the EU's system of geographical indications, meaning "Idaho" potatoes or "Florida" oranges would be protected under the system.

Was there any good news for Budvar? Ms Veron-Reville again:

"In the case of the Czech beer, the WTO clearly ruled that American Budweiser beer cannot exclude Budejovicky pivo sold under the Czech name in the EU"

In an interview with Radio Prague after the resolution of a recent case, Budvar's, public relations director noted that at any given time several dozen disputes between the two were under way between the two brewers.