AP interview: Czech brewer fighting Budweiser trademark battle with AB InBev not for sale

PRAGUE – The brewer Budvar is to remain state-owned as the new Czech government has no plans to change its ownership, the agriculture minister said Thursday.

Budejovicky Budvar NP has been fighting with U.S. beer giant Anheuser-Busch for over a century over use of the “Budweiser” brand. The legal battle continued when Anheuser-Busch was taken over by Belgium’s InBev in 2008 to create the world’s largest brewer.

“I can see no reason to consider the sale of the national enterprise,” Marian Jurecka told The Associated Press in an interview. “In the long term, its contribution to the state budget makes more sense,” said Jurecka who is formally in charge of the company.

Jurecka said Budvar has been in good shape and remained profitable despite the recent economic downturn.

Budvar’s exports in 2013 rose 16.1 per cent to 763,000 hectolitres (20.15 million gallons) of beer, the best result in 118 years. Budvar exported to 65 countries in 2013 — seven more than the previous year. Its overall output reached 1.424 million hectolitres, also a record and 6.2 per cent up from 2012. Net profit reached 320 million koruna ($16 million).

Budvar will now aim to boost its production capacity by 200,000 hectolitres by 2016 to meet growing demand, Jurecka said.

The trademark legal battle with Anheuser-Busch was another reason to keep it in the state hands for fears it would be acquired by AB InBev.

“Should the acquisition be meant just to solve the trademark dispute, AB InBev would not be interested in any beer production in Ceske Budejovice at all,” Jurecka said.

AB InBev said last year it no longer had plans to acquire Budvar, arguing it doesn’t make commercial sense. Still, Budvar is a thorn in the side for AB InBev, preventing it from entering some key markets such as Germany with the Budweiser brand.

Jurecka also expressed doubts that a global settlement offered by AB InBev several years ago and rejected by Budvar would solve the problem.

“I don’t think it would improve Budvar’s position on the world markets,” he said.

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.