LUXEMBOURG Europe's highest court on Thursday upheld the right of Dutch and Italian brewers to sell their 'Bavaria' beer in Italy, rejecting a bid by a company making a rival beer with the equivalent name in German to stop them.
Bayerischer Brauerbund, a German association of brewers in Bavaria, makes Bayerisches Bier, a name that has been granted EU protection. It has been making the beer since 1968.
Dutch brewer Bavaria NV, which operates internationally, is the owner of several trademarks that contain the word 'Bavaria' registered from 1947. Bavaria Italia belongs to the Bavaria group of companies.
In 2004, the German association filed a case in an Italian court to stop the Italian and Dutch brewers from marketing beers under the 'Bavaria' name in Italy. The lawsuit was successful, prompting an appeal.
The Italian court then referred the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to clarify if similar brandnames that were in use before the EU protection came into force.
The EU has awarded protected-name status to hundreds of regional food and drink products, insisting that only producers in the relevant region can use the names. Several thousand wine names, for example, are protected.
But the ECJ ruled that the regulation registering 'Bayerisches Bier' as a protected name "has no adverse effects on the validity and the possibility of using ... pre-existing trademarks of third parties in which the word 'Bavaria' appears."
But national courts still had to verify that a pre-existing trademark "was registered in good faith before the date on which the application for registration was lodged and that there are no grounds for invalidity or revocation of the trademark."
(Reporting by Jeremy Smith; editing by John Stonestreet)