AB InBev Drops One Case Against Heineken as Beer Battle Goes On

(Bloomberg) -- Anheuser-Busch InBev SA said it’s dropping a U.S. trade case against Heineken NV to focus instead on getting money from its rival beermaker.

Heineken is no longer importing its Blade or Brewlock beer dispensing systems into the U.S., so there’s no need to proceed with a patent-infringement case at the U.S. International Trade Commission, AB InBev said in a filing. The agency only has the power to block imports and can’t award damages, so AB InBev said it’s turning to the courts for cash.

“We are pleased to have achieved our desired outcome in this proceeding -- namely Heineken’s withdrawal of its products from the market,” Pablo Jimenez, a spokesman for AB InBev said in a statement. “Given we have achieved our desired result, we see no further need for the requested relief from the USITC.”

When it filed its trade complaint against Heineken, AB InBev also filed a civil lawsuit in New York that was put on hold. AB InBev said it will ask that the case be reopened. It didn’t say how much it believes Heineken owes in damages.

The world’s two largest beermakers -- both based in Europe -- have accused each other of infringing patents related to a new type of system designed as an alternative to bulky metal kegs. The beer containers are made of a plastic outer shell, while a bladder inside holds the beer. Compressed air is shot between the two, which pushes the beer up. The companies say it gives a fresher flavor since no outside gas or air is in contact with the beer from the time it leaves the brewery to the time it’s dispensed in a glass.

AB InBev claims it invented the bag-in-a-container technology that holds the beer, while Heineken says its invention covers the dispensing equipment.

Heineken’s lawyer told a trade judge on April 16 that neither the BrewLock nor the Blade are currently sold in the U.S. and questioned why the case was still proceeding.

“This was the first time that Heineken had stated on the public record” that the products are no longer being sold in the U.S., AB InBev said in a filing requesting that the May 6 trial at the agency be canceled.

Heineken said that AB Inbev’s request to end the trade case came after the judge issued an order interpreting the patents in a way benefited Heineken.

“AB InBev’s request for withdrawal today confirms Heineken’s firm belief that its products do not infringe AB InBev’s patents,” John-Paul Schuirink, a spokesman for Heineken, said in a statement.

Schuirink said the withdrawal of AB Inbev’s case doesn’t affect Heineken’s case, in which it’s seeking to block AB InBev’s Nova system used for Stella Artois beer. A trial in that case was heard before a different trade judge in Washington earlier this month. The judge is scheduled to release her findings in September and a final decision from the trade commission is scheduled for January.

In addition to the Blade and Brewlock systems, which are geared toward restaurants and small pubs, Heineken sells a system called a Sub that’s designed for the home market. AB InBev contends all three systems are using its patented inventions.

The trade cases are In the Matter of Certain Blow-Molded Bag-in-Container devices, 337-1115; and Heineken’s case is In the Matter of Certain Beverage Dispensing Systems, 337-1130, both U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington). The civil suit is Anheuser-Busch InBev S.A. v. Heineken USA Inc., 18cv3856, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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