Bud Light wins dispute against UK company registering 'budlight' domain name for light bulb site

A British firm has lost a battle with brewery giant Budweiser after registering the Internet domain name "budlight.co.uk" to sell lights inspired by flower buds.

Surest Ltd planned to use the website for an "innovative range of small halogen lights inspired by the form of flower buds".

But the brewers of Bud Light beer, Brussels-based Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, complained and successfully argued that beer drinkers would be confused.

Bud Light was launched in the USA in 1982, and Anheuser-Busch said it would have been "well known to British consumers".

The low-alcohol beer was officially introduced in Britain in 1999 through a $5.4 million advertising campaign. Surest Ltd, based in Truro, Cornwall, registered the "budlight.co.uk" domain name in 1999.

But AB InBev feared it would "disruptively confuse Internet users" and complained to web watchdog Nominet, the independent body that resolves disputes over U.K.-registered Internet domain names.

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The beer was withdrawn from the U.K. in 2001 before a relaunch last year, and the Belgian brewer said that meant "the matter had undoubtedly become more pressing to avoid confusion."

Ruling on the dispute, Nominet expert Dawn Osborne directed transfer of the budlight.co.uk domain name to AB InBev.

In the judgment, she said: "While it is true that 'bud' and 'light' are two common words in the English language, and could theoretically be used to describe lights in the shape of a flower bud, it is less common to see them combined and in the order 'bud light.'"

Surest, established in 1997, said that the domain name was registered as part of a "planned project in the consumer electronics field, specifically lighting." The company had explored the creation of an "innovative range of small halogen lights inspired by the form of flower buds," and the term 'bud light' was coined to "capture this new product concept."

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Early concept sketches for the lights were shown to Nominet and the company confirmed the web address was not registered with a view to selling it to AB InBev or to disrupt the company's business.

Surest submitted that it was unaware of AB InBev's existence at the time and, as Bud Light had been withdrawn from the U.K. market for 16 years, it was not well known in the U.K.

It was reported in marketing publications in February 1999 that AB InBev was planning to launch Bud Light later that year. The budlight.co.uk domain name was registered in May 1999, and Osborne described that as "suspicious timing."

The drawings of the lighting concept were undated and hand drawn, she added. Surest's case was "simply not credible in the circumstances," she concluded.

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As Osborne added, "The complainant (AB InBev) has adduced sufficient evidence to show that, on the balance of probabilities, the domain name was registered in bad faith. The domain name shall be transferred to Anheuser-Busch InBev SA."

Companies House lists Surest Ltd's directors as Mark Wilson and Tara Physick, who is also company secretary. Surest Ltd appears to be a travel-based company with a turnover of between £7.4m and £13.5m over the past four years.

A spokesman at Surest Ltd said they weren't able to comment on the issue.