Anheuser-Busch loses trademark battle in South Korea

South Korea

In a decision that put an end to a 15-year-old dispute, the High Court in Seoul has dismissed Anheuser-Busch's appeal against Budějovický Budvar's (BB) use of (i) BUDVAR trademarks, and (ii) the company name Budweiser Budvar NC for its operations in South Korea (Case 2002NA73700).

In 1996, BB filed an application for the registration of the trademarks BUDĚJOVICKÝ BUDVAR and BUDWEISER BUDVAR with the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO). In 1999, Anheuser-Busch lodged an opposition against the registration of BB's trademarks claiming that they were in conflict with its own registered trademarks BUDWEISER and BUD. KIPO dismissed the opposition and allowed registration of BB's trademarks. Anheuser-Busch filed an invalidation action with the Intellectual Property Tribunal (IPT) but lost. It appealed to the Patent Court.

The Patent Court upheld the IPT decision, ruling that BB's trademarks were not in conflict with Anheuser-Busch's marks. Anheuser-Busch appealed to the Supreme Court and lost again (2001Hu2870).

In the meantime, Anheuser-Busch filed an action with a civil court to preclude BB from using its trademarks and the company name Budweiser Budvar NC on the basis that they were confusingly similar to Anheuser-Busch's marks. However, Anheuser-Busch failed again and appealed to the High Court in Seoul.

The High Court affirmed BB's right to use the BUDVAR trademarks and the company name Budweiser Budvar NC. The court dismissed the claim of confusing similarity with Anheuser-Busch's BUDWEISER and BUD marks. Anheuser-Busch did not appeal before the Supreme Court and the High Court's decision has become final.

For a discussion of other instances where BB has won trademark disputes against Anheuser-Busch, see BUDĚJOVICKÝ BUDVAR registrations upheld by Board of Appeal, Anheuser-Busch precluded from registering BUD in Switzerland and Budvar one step closer to exclusive right to use BUD in Austria. However, it is worth noting that Anheuser-Busch still holds unchallenged rights to the trademarks BUDWEISER and BUD in most of the world, including North and South America and virtually all of Asia.

Yoon Bae Kim, Kims & Lees, Seoul

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