A major loss for the world's #1 brewer
Pilsner Urquell is clearly the most valuable Czech beer trademark – not only because it's produced in my hometown. The brewery belongs to SABMiller these days, the world's second largest brewing empire after Belgium's AB Inbev which is known as the owner of Anheuser-Busch ("Budweiser").
On the contrary, Budweiser is arguably the second most well-known Czech beer after all the Pilsner brands. Yes, I said Budweiser. The Czech brewery (founded in 1895 in its current form but the city has produced OK beer since the 13th century and pils since the 1840s; the brewery is state-owned these days) has been active in legal disputes against its American namesake (founded in 1852 in St. Louis) since 1906. It's been quite some time.
Now, you should understand that it's a genuine David vs Goliath battle: Anheuser-Busch produces a whopping 270 times more beer than the equally named Czech brewery. But just like in the Holy Scripture, David may sometimes win. And it actually often wins. Among the 125 legal disputes about the trademark since 2000, the Czech brewer has won 89 of them, a vast majority.
The newest victory today is among the sweetest ones. The battlefield was the United Kingdom, an important market and a natural transition point between Europe and the U.S.
In the latest verdict that can no longer be appealed, the judge declared that the Southern Bohemian brewery is allowed to share the trademarks such as Budweiser with Anheuser-Busch. The British consumers are intelligent and experienced enough to distinguish the two products, the judge explained.
You may see that the further a court is from Budweis, the actual city – and be sure that its 100,000 inhabitants live in Czechia, not the U.S. – the more likely it is that he or she is ignorant about the basic geography and etymology. Budweis is the German name for a Czech city and Budweiser is really a kind of an adjective derived from this name of the city. So how could it denote an American beer? ;-)
Just to be sure, this is a suggestive map of the Czech lands with the Sudetenland – the areas in which the German minority became a majority at one point – and with the German names. Of course, there are German names for all major Czech towns. Prag, Pilsen, Brünn, Karlsbad, Marienbad, Budweis are sort of self-explanatory. But many Czech readers may want to be assured that Eger, Aussig, Reichenberg, Iglau, Zwittau, Troppau, Teschen are German names for Cheb, Ústí nad Labem, Liberec, Jihlava, Svitavy, Opava, and Český Těšín (a city that split to the Polish and Czech parts after the de iure tied but de facto victorious 1919 Seven Day War between Poland and Czechoslovakia).
If you realize that this whole map was administratively "Czech lands" for 1,000 years, it's kind of incredible that the Germans could have become a majority in such a big chunk of the map, a curiosity that was skillfully abused by Adolf Hitler in 1938. And even in cities where Czechs have never lost its majority and that were at least meters outside the Sudetenland, such as Pilsen, there has always been a culturally important enough German-speaking minority.
But let us return to the legal disputes. George Schneider opened the "Bavarian Brewery" in 1852. Note that Pilsner Urquell was established as an "instant success" in 1842 also because a Bavarian brewer was hired by the distinguished citizens of Pilsen. So the Bavarian and Bohemian beer histories are culturally unified.
When did Anheuser-Busch begin to produce Budweiser? Well, in the 1870s, Adolphus Busch toured Europe and he was trying to steal the ideas and tastes wherever he could. Finally, he was intrigued by one of the "imitations" of the Pilsner beer brewed in Budweis – it was two decades before the town of Budweis established the company we know today – and not-quite-accurately emulated the beer as the American Budweiser.
Anheuser-Busch should really be grateful to the Budweiser, Pilsner, and even Bavarian breweries that this big company isn't sued for stealing the whole concept and recipes of the products that it has benefited from for well over 160 years. Maybe, trillions of dollars should be paid to the city of Budweis as damages. ;-) But the idea that Anheuser-Busch could prevent the Budweiser beer from the original city of Budweis from being sold in places that are rather close to Budweis – for example Britain – sounds utterly ludicrous. From an impartial viewpoint, it's as ludicrous as if the New Yorker couldn't send the magazine in Canada because everyone knows that this title must describe a Czech journal – because a Czech guy toured North America sometime in the 19th century. Or, using a real-world example, it's exactly as if Harvard weren't allowed to call its branches "Harvard" because the trademark "Harvard" belongs to Viktor Kožený, the Pirate of Prague who managed to get an MBA from the "other" Harvard. ;-)
Now, many Americans think that Europe is a country that speaks French, especially in Budapest, so it's not shocking they have no clue where is Budweis and whether it exists at all. So they have no problem with a beer from St Louis that is called Budweiser (in Northern America, the real Budweiser has to be sold as Czechvar). But judges from more geographically educated countries should know better. ;-)
The emotions remain bitter. In some countries, such as Germany, the Czech brewer has a monopoly over the Budweiser trademark. In North America, it's the other way around. And in many other countries including the U.K., the brand is shared. The Czech brewery's representatives already noticed that Anheuser-Busch doesn't want to leave any breathing room for anyone else so it's even bad when the Budweiser trademark is shared. Anheuser-Busch has to be destroyed, they have realized. :-)
When we are already talking about international trade, it's fun to mention that Iran's economy minister said that his country plans to phase out dollars and euros in foreign trade. That's quite an ambitious proclamation and you may be asking what currency they will be using.
Fortunately, the Iranian agency also offers us the picture above. Right behind the one-dollar bill, you see a Czech 50-crown bill. So that must be the replacement! The only problem is that the 50-crown banknote has been out of circulation since 2011. These days, we exclusively use the 50-crown (bimetal) coin, aside from coins and banknotes of other denominations. But if Iran wants to use discontinued foreign banknotes for international trade, it's their right. ;-)
A major loss for the world's #1 brewer