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EU Court to favor Budvar in Finnish trademark fight.

AP--A key legal opinion, put before the European Court of Justice last week, recommends that Czech brewer Budvar AS be given trademark protection of the Budweiser name in Finland.

EU Advocate General Antonio Tizzano said that given the company's historical links to the name Budweiser, it--and not Anheuser-Busch Cos., its St. Louis-bused rival--is entitled to use the name Bud or Budweiser in Finland. The EU high court usually follows the advice of the advocate general, who gives cases a first review.

Anheuser-Busch called the legal opinion supportive of the U.S. company's position. "Importantly, the advocate general points out that a trade name can in fact be prohibited from use when it is being used in a trade-mark-like manner, as has been the case with Budvar," said Stephen Burrows, chief executive and president of Anheuser-Busch International.

Budvar and Anheuser-Busch are locked in more than 40 lawsuits worldwide over the use of the name Bud or Budweiser.

Budvar was founded in 1895 in Ceske Budejovice, Budweis to German-speakers in the area, where beer has been made since 1265. A-B said it has used the name Budweiser because it was well-known in its founders' German homeland. Its St. Louis brewery got its start in 1852 and made Budweiser, America's first national beer brand, in 1876.

Tizzano said a 1995 international trademark agreement applies to previous trademark applications, as Budvar has argued. He said a Finnish court--which seeks guidance from the EU high court--should rule Budvar's name was linked to Budweiser before the U.S. brewer's.

In Europe, courts in Latvia and Denmark have ruled in Budvar's favor but Anheuser-Busch has won the "BUd" cases in Sweden, Italy and elsewhere. In Finland, Budvar registered its name in 1967, but a Finnish court removed its trademark in 1984 for lack of use and Anheuser-Busch registered its trademark there in 1986.

While discussing the issues in the case last week, Reuters reported that advocate-general Tizzano said the Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar's use of "Budweiser Budvar" in Finland could infringe on A-B's trademark "Budweiser" and confuse consumers.

On the other hand, the Luxembourg-based lawyer had said the Czech company's trade name, which is derived from the place of origin of the beer in the Czech Republic, could have an "existing prior right" if it had been used to market goods before the trademark was registered.

Ominously for Anheuser-Busch, there is a growing movement in the European Community to retain or reclaim control of appellations. It could be argued that "Budweiser" is just such an appellation, signifying the beer of Budweis.

Legal analysts noted that the EU's stance on the Finnish case could determine who keeps the name in the 25-nation bloc. "Where there is conflict between a trade name and a trademark this is to be resolved on the basis of who has the oldest fight to the sign," a European Union court official told Reuters, summarizing the advocate-general's opinion.
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Title Annotation:European Union
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Geographic Code:4EUFI
Date:Jul 5, 2004
Previous Article:Brewers events.
Next Article:Pete Coors draws flak for his comments on a lower legal drinking age.

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