Tweet Yesterday, the daily Hospodářské noviny anounced on its front page that "Američané koupili známky Budweiser Bier" (the Yanks have bought the Budweiser Bier brand). It didn't surprise me the least bit, actually, I knew that something like this was going to happen sooner or later. But before explaining you why, let me give you a few more details about the news.
What Anheuser-Busch bought was a company called Budějovický měšťanský pivovar. They haven't even bought a brewery proper, just a bunch of papers and some symbolic real estate. Before the sale the owners of the brewery had split the company in two, one of them is now called Pivovar Samson a.s., it kept almost everything, the facilities, technology, staff, you name it, while the other one was left only with the "Budweiser Bier" registered trademark and some land.
The main reason why I wasn't surprised at all by the news is something I read a couple of years ago. I don't remember exactly when, I think it was at the time when there were rumours that Heineken might buy Staropramen, but I do remember that the owners of Budějovický měšťanský pivovar wanted to sell the company for a ridiculous price, 1.5 billion CZK, I think. A brewery that back then was producing less than 150,000hl a year couldn't have been worth that much. It was obvious for me back then that what they actually wanted to sell was the brand and that they wanted to sell it to AB-InBev, who else (besides Budvar) would want to buy it?
It's difficult to say now what all this could mean for Budvar and its future, but I don't think there are any reasons to panic, though there might be a few to be a bit worried (just a bit, not much, at least not now).
It's true that it could be said that Budějovický měšťanský pivovar has a more legitimate claim to be the "Original Budweiser", the brewery was established almost a century before Budvar, but things are a bit more complicated than that. The fact that this company now happens to be owned by AB-InBev doesn't necessarily mean that Budvar's position is in danger, at least that's the way I see it.
For instance, in Germany AB-InBev can't use the Budweiser brand because it had been registered first by Budvar and this is a fact that won't change regardless of who is the owner of the other brewery that can use the brand here in CZ.
What could happen, though, is that AB-InBev, through Budějovický měšťanský pivovar, starts brewing Budweiser in the Czech Republic using, perhaps, the capacity of Pivovar Samson. Not to sell it here, of course, but to export it. But even if they did that, or something similar, I can't see how another beer called "Budweiser" could be sold in those markets where Budvar has already won the fight against AB-InBev, and it's not clear to me, either, how this could affect the other trademark disputes both companies still have in several courts.
However, there is another factor to consider. The Ministry of Agriculture wants to privatise Budvar, that's no secret. For that, according to what the Minister has said, they want to find an out of court solution to the remaining cases with AB-InBev this year. Once they have taken care of that (if they can do it) the plan is to turn the National Company into a Joint Stock Company (if that is the correct translation of "a.s."), with the Czech state as the sole (or main) shareholder. Later on, the state could offer part of the shares of the company to the best bidder or even in the stock market, and here is where Budějovický měšťanský pivovar could come in, and believe me, they will have quite a few monies for that.
But all this is speculation, in the meantime, enjoy your Budvar, it's not in any imminent danger.
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