Over in Strasbourg, France, Anheuser-Busch
The decision in question came in response to a 2001 appeal to this most unusual forum for resolving business disputes. (It was actually the first trademark case the ECHR had ever heard.) In that year, Portugal's Supreme Court ruled against Anheuser in a two-decade-old trademark dispute, begun when Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar challenged Anheuser's attempt to register the "Budweiser" trademark in Portugal in 1981. In ruling against Anheuser back in 2001, Portugal's Supreme Court cited a 1986 treaty between Czechoslovakia and Portugal, in which the two countries undertook to protect each others' rights to designate the names of their products' places of origin. For about a century now, Budejovicky Budvar has been arguing in countries around the globe that because it is located in the city whose German name translates as "Budweis," it, not Anheuser, has the right to use the name "Budweiser" on its products.
Anheuser obviously disagrees. It insists that because it began using the Budweiser name about 20 years before Budejovicky Budvar did, way back at the end of the 19th century, the name is Anheuser's intellectual property. With such intellectual "property" forming the subject of the dispute, Anheuser felt it had grounds to appeal the Portuguese decision on the grounds that it failed to protect Anheuser's property -- a violation of Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court apparently agreed on Anheuser's jurisdictional argument -- but when it came to the substance of the case, it decided that Anheuser's "legal position was not sufficiently strong to amount to a 'legitimate expectation'" of protection from Portugal.
But the more interesting question may be how the ECHR's decision stacks up against the European Union's treaty obligations within the World Trade Organization. As we described back in March, the WTO rejected Budejovicky Budvar's argument that "Budweis," as a German translation of the Czech city name "Budejovicky," is protected as a "geographic indication" that a brewer located somewhere else than in Budejovicky could not use to describe its products. If the WTO decision trumps the ECHR's decision, Budejovicky Budvar's win on Tuesday may prove irrelevant.
For more on Anheuser's trademark travails, read: