The Czech company Jan Becher-Karlovarská Becherovka, the producer of the famous Becherovka liqueur, has filled charges against Simpex Plus Chotín, a Slovak producer of the same liqueur. The Czech company accuses Simplex Plus of violating trademark rights and unfair business practices, said David Binar, the company's spokesman.
Binar said on March 7 that a regional court in Slovakia should hear the case by the end of the week and deal with a request to issue a preliminary injunction banning the production and sale of the Slovak liqueur under the famous Becher trademark.
"There is only one Becher liqueur and it has been produced in the Czech town of Karlovy Vary since 1907. We consider all claims of the Slovak party to be baseless and the statements by Simpex owner Zdeněk Hoffmann to be absurd. It is a violation of license rights. We will win hands down," said Binar.
The Slovak distillery in Chotín, which acquired the recipe for the liqueur's production from Zdeněk Hoffman twenty years ago, started production of a Slovak version of the Becher liqueur on February 15 this year. Hoffmann claims to have inherited the recipe from his grandfather, who had been given the recipe by Alfred Becher in 1939.
The first bottles of the Slovak liqueur appeared in Slovak supermarkets on March 3. Experts claim that the liqueur produced according to Hoffmann's recipe is almost identical to the Czech one, but has a more pleasing taste.
Hoffmann told SITA that he owns documents from 1939 that unambiguously confirm his claim to ownership of the recipe. He further maintains that the regional court in Domažlice, the Czech Republic, confirmed his rights in 1998. He said that these rights are paramount to the trademark ownership of the liqueur produced in Karlovy Vary, and thus he does not fear the lawsuit. He expected that the Czech producer would files charges against him, but he has received no official information to confirm the suit as yet.
The Národná Obroda Slovak daily paper wrote on March 5 that Simpex Plus company is also suing Jan Becher-Karlovarská Becherovka. Its aim is to halt production of the liqueur in Karlovy Vary.
Hoffmann told the paper that Simpex Plus is willing to buy shares in its Czech antagonist, and that afterwards, the two companies would merge while the original Becher liqueur (i.e. that produced according to Hoffmann's recipe) would be produced at both companies.
This is not the only license dispute in which the Czech Becher liqueur producer is involved. The German concern Underberg bought the rights to produce Becher liqueur from Heda Becher in 1971, but did not make use of this right for 23 years, acting instead as a distributor of the Czech Becher liqueur. In 1994, Underberg launched production and won a lawsuit against the Czech liqueur producer for illegal usage of the trademark in 1996. In this way, Underberg managed to push the Czech liqueur out of the European market. The Czech company lost 40% of its export market, or sales of approximately 1 million liters annually.