THE US brewer Anheuser-Busch (A-B) makes the world’s biggest beer brand, Budweiser. It accounts for 50 percent of total beer sales in the United States, while Anheuser-Busch brews more beer than the entire British brewing industry put together.
You might think this immensely rich company would be satisfied with its vast profits. But for more than a century it has taken legal action against the Czech brewery Budweiser Budvar over rights to the trademark.
The Czech’s case is a simple one—although their brewery opened in 1895, several decades after A-B first brewed Budweiser in St Louis, their beer follows the old German tradition of naming a brand after its place of origin.
Just as a Pilsener beer comes from Pilsen and a Frankfurter sausage from Frankfurt, a Budweiser beer comes from the Czech town of Ceske Budejovice, known as Budweis when the country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
One thing that cannot be denied is that St Louis, Missouri, is not yet part of the Czech Republic.
The Czechs have successfully won many of the court actions taken against it by A-B. But in the US, the beer from the state-owned brewery has to be branded “Czechvar”. The Czechs have to use the same name in Italy.
Now A-B has moved against a tiny Belgian brewery, Dubuisson, which produces around 20,000 hectolitres a year. A-B spills more beer than Dubuisson makes, but the Belgian company has the misfortune to include “Buisson” in its name, which means Bush in English.
Dubuisson has exported its beer since the 1930s under the Bush name. During the First World War, British troops fighting in Belgium took a liking to the local beer, Dubuisson in particular, whose brands at 12 percent alcohol are as strong as wine.
The company responded by exporting to Britain and to other European countries using the name Bush.
In the US, however, it has always labelled its beer Scaldis—the Latin name for the Belgian river, the Scheldt—out of deference to Anheuser-Busch. But A-B is not satisfied.
It took the case to the International Court of Arbitration in Paris on the grounds that Bush brands caused confusion with one of its own American beers called Busch.
The court ruled that Dubuisson can use the brand name Bush in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Switzerland and Portugal. But for export to all other countries—including Britain—it must use Scaldis.
There is no doubt the change of name will lead to a loss of sales for Dubuisson. Drinkers don’t like to ask for beers with “funny” names. Budvar, for example, has seen its sales slump in Italy since it had to rename its beer “Czechvar”.
Beer lovers who have complained to Anheuser-Busch about its bullyboy tactics against Dubuisson have received a stock reply: “The company has no dispute with Dubuisson.”
Of course not—the global giant, with its massive resources and army of lawyers—has won yet another court battle against a brewing minnow.
The corporate tyrant faces stiffer opposition in Germany. The football World Cup will be played in Germany in 2006 and the ruling body FIFA has chosen the US Budweiser as the “beer of the tournament”.
Germans are outraged. They are not only big beer drinkers but are proud of their ancient Pure Beer Law. As Budweiser is brewed from rice as well as barley, Germans dub it “chemi-beer”, or chemical beer, and won’t touch it with a bargepole.
The founders of the brewery, Anheuser and Busch, were German emigrants. The company’s return to their homeland may not be a happy one.