US brewing group, Anheuser-Busch, is anticipating a significant fillip in its long-running trademark dispute with the Czech brewer, Budejovicky Budvar, over rights to the Budweiser name.

The European Commission this week is expected to soften legislation protecting European food and drink specialties. This would allow A-B to challenge any attempt by Budvar to register the name Budweiser as a protected product of origin under EU law.

The Czech company would have recourse to this protection once the Czech Republic joins the European Union which could happen as soon as 2004. Budvar originates from Budejovice, translated as Budweis, which it claims should give it the rights to the Budweiser name.

If Budvar were to get the protection, it could in theory regain the rights to the Budweiser name in the EU, overriding existing trademark rights which A-B has won. While the current law prevents a producer from outside the EU appealing against the ruling, the European Commission is to update the system, allowing companies from non-EU countries to appeal against applications for protection.

However, Martin Dolezal, a Budvar spokesman, said that the company had a genuine claim that the Budweiser brand was a mark of origin.

Budejovice has been a centre of brewing since the 13th century, while a US-produced Budweiser beer was first marketed in 1876. Anheuser-Busch first registered the name as a trademark in 1907. In Europe, Budvar has rights to the Budweiser brand name in non-EU countries Switzerland, Lithuania and Latvia. In the EU, the Czech company has trademark protection in 10 countries, including Austria, France, Italy, Belgium and the UK, though in the latter case after 16 years of litigation a ruling was made to allow both to be sold. In the rest of the EU it is registered as Budějovický Budvar. As it stands, A-B has trademark protection in 10 EU countries and recently prevailed in legal challenges from Budvar in Italy and Denmark.