They’ve been arguing about a name for 106 years. A small brewer in the Czech Republic and the world’s biggest beer maker have been suing each other over the right to put the word Budweiser on their bottles in what has become a David versus Goliath corporate saga.
A deal, it seems, will have to wait a bit longer because settlement talks between state-owned Budejovicky Budvar and Anheuser-Busch, a US company now part of AB InBev, have collapsed.
The dispute is over exclusive rights — when only one of the companies is allowed to use the Budweiser name in any given country. As a larger company, AB InBev is particularly keen to expand its exports and market its beers under the Budweiser brand. But Budvar says that giving up its exclusive rights to the name would threaten to wipe out its own brand from the market.
The brewers last agreed on a global settlement in 1939 in a pact that gave Anheuser-Busch sole rights to the name Budweiser in all American territories north of Panama. But the peace did not last long as the two companies expanded exports to new markets.
Though AB InBev is far larger than Budvar, the Czech company has been punching above its weight in the legal arena. It won 88 of 124 disputes between 2000 and 2011 and holds exclusive rights in 68 countries, preventing AB Inbev from entering some key markets.
Co-existence is possible: the two companies already share the Budweiser name in Britain. Both brewers were granted the right to use the name in 2000 after a British court ruled that drinkers were aware of the difference.
The companies’ claims to the Budweiser name are built on two main arguments — geography and history. Budejovicky Budvar was founded in 1895 in the southern city of Ceske Budejovice — called Budweis at the time by the German-speaking people who formed about 40% of the area’s population. Beer has been brewed here since 1265 and has been known for centuries as Budweiser.