The Dutch brewers have been in an eight-year trade mark dispute with Bayerischer Brauerbund, a German association of Bavarian brewers over the use of the German region’s name for the brand.
The ECJ ruled because the Dutch brand has been using the name since 1925, and under trade mark protection since 1947, it pre-dated the geographical protection granted to Bayerisches Bier, or “Bavarian Beer”, and therefore cannot be used to stop the Dutch brewers’ use of the Bavaria name.
Geographical protection means that if a product is manufactured in any given region, the producer has the automatic right to use the name of that region in brand names.
There have been several geographical disputes between producers after the EU awarded protection to many regional food and drink products in 2001,
The case was referred to the ECJ following a ruling in favour of the German brewers, which Bavaria NV subsequently appealed. The case will now be referred back to the national courts.
Kirsten Gilbert, a solicitor at intellectual property firm Marks & Clerk Solicitors, says: “Today’s decision demonstrates that the strong protection for geographical terms cannot necessarily be used to cancel out earlier rights that brand owners have legitimately and successfully sought to protect.”