The position of the European Union over the future of the Budweiser trademark was clouded yesterday by a ruling from an Advocate General on a dispute in Finland.

Finland is just one of the markets in which the world's largest brewer Anheuser-Busch is fighting for control of the trademark for Budweiser with the much smaller Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar'.

EU advocate-general Antonio Tizzano seemed to rule in favour of both companies. On the one hand he said that the Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar's use of "Budweiser Budvar" in Finland could infringe on Anheuser-Busch's trademark "Budweiser" and confuse consumers.

However, he also added that the Czech company could have an "existing prior right" to the trade name, if it had been used to market goods before the trademark was registered. Budejovicky Budvar's claim to the trademark comes from name of the town where the beer is produced.

The Finnish Supreme Court has asked for the opinion of the European Court of Justice in the matter. Although the Advocate General's ruling is not binding, the ECJ usually follows its findings.

It is highly likely the ECJ will use the ultimate decision as a blueprint for its stance across the rest of the Union.

"Where there is conflict between a trade name and a trademark this is to be resolved on the basis of who has the oldest right to the sign," said an EU court official, summarising the advocate-general's opinion.

The Czech brewer also registered Budvar and Budweiser Budvar as trademarks in Finland in the 1960s and 1970s.

But it was struck off the Finnish commercial register in 1984 for lack of use. Anheuser-Busch then registered the "Budweiser" trademark in Finland in the mid-1980s.