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Golden Guinea wins N10bn eight-year suit against AB InBev

Golden Guinea wins N10bn 8-year suit against AB InBev

Golden Guinea Breweries Plc has won an eight-year-long N10 billion suit against International Breweries Plc and Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev).

The Umuahia Abia State-based brewer had approched the Federal High Court in 2016 demanding general damages in the sum of N10 billion from Pabod Breweries Limited, a company which AB InBev has a controlling equity stake, saying Pabod infringed on its trademark for the production of Eagle Stout.

Justice Stephen Dalyop Pam of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt Division, ruled on March 6, 2024 after hearing Omolola Aderolu of Johnson Bryant on behalf of Golden Guinea Breweries Plc and S. Nmor for the defendants.

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In a four-page court judgment seen by BusinessDay on Thursday, the Federal High Court granted, among others, that Golden Guinea Breweries Plc, as proprietor of the trademark ‘Eagle Stout’, registered as No. 21153 in class 32 at the Nigerian Trade Marks Registry Abuja, and is entitled to an exclusive use of the mark for the production, sale and distribution of the product in the Nigerian market.

Also, the Federal High Court judge ruled in the suit number PHC/PH/CS/647/2016 that Golden Guinea Breweries, as registered proprietor of the trademark ‘Eagle Stout’, is entitled to an exclusive use of the mark for the production, sale, and distribution of the product in the Nigerian market.

An order of perpetual injunction was also granted by the court restraining the defendants and each of those on whose behalf it is used, whether by themselves their directors, officers, servants, agents or privies or any of them or otherwise howsoever from infringing the plaintiff trademark registered
as ‘Eagle Stout’; passing off or attempting to pass off or causing, enabling or assisting others to pass off ‘Eagle Stout’ and for the plaintiff’s ‘Eagle Stout’ product by adopting the distinctive word ‘Eagle Stout’ on the packets, packages or bottles of the said product falsely claiming the same to be the product of the plaintiff; as well as producing, importing, selling or offering for sale of distributing the product known as ‘Eagle Stout’.

Golden Guinea Breweries Plc is located on Aba Road, Afara Layout, Umuahia in Abia State, while Pabod Breweries Limited is on 186/187, Trans-Amadi/Elelenwo Bypass, Old Port Harcourt Two, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The company, which is listed on the Nigerian Exchange Limited (NGX), has 1.003billion ordinary shares of 50 kobo each issued and fully paid.

A look at Golden Guinea Breweries Plc shareholding structure revealed: Abia State Government holds 33,911,264 units or 3.38 percent; Imo State Government, 18,044,208 units or 1.80 percent; Ebonyi State Government, 1,563,591 units or 0.16 percent; Philmontan Nigeria Limited, 31million units or 3.09 percent; Couthinho, Caro & Co. Nigeria Limited, 13.608million units or 1.36 percent;
Holsten Baruerei AG Hamburg, 15 million units or 1.50 percent; Floco Verwaltungs-Und, 36,208,000 units or 3.61 percent; Other Nigerian Associations and Citizens, 101,500,937 units or 10.12 percent and
Pan Marine Investments Limited has 752.508 million units or 75 percent.

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With its newly installed equipment with capacity of producing 48,000 bottles per hour (1.15million bottles per day), Golden Guinea Breweries Plc eyes production capacity that will more than double that at Nigerian Breweries’ Ama, Enugu plant and SABMiller’s Intafact Beverages in Onitsha.

In October 2016, the world’s largest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) completed a $106 billion takeover of SABMiller, the second largest.

That merger meant that one-thirds of beer consumed comes from the giant brewer. That merger also resulted in AB InBev taking over the business of SABMiller in Nigeria, which has led to the merger between International Breweries Plc (based in Ilesha), Intafact Breweries Limited (based in Onitsha), and Pabod Breweries Limited (based in Port Harcourt) which is the defendant in this suit. AB InBev currently owns 75percent of Intafact, 82.8percent of Pabod Breweries and 72.2percent of International Breweries.

Before the takeover by AB InBev, SABMiller, which was hitherto owned Pabod Breweries, was the third largest brewer in Nigeria after Heineken’s Nigerian Breweries Plc and Diageo’s Guinness Nigeria Plc. Although SABMiller entered the Nigerian beer market late in 2009, it moved swiftly to acquire Pabod Breweries.

“Golden Guinea Breweries Plc sued International Breweries Plc & Anheuser Busch InBev over the flagrant use of its registered Trade Mark ” Eagle Stout.” The Court on 6th March, 2024 gave Judgment in favour of Golden Guinea Breweries Plc.
The Judgement delivered on 6th March, 2024 at the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt is a reassurance that the Judiciary still is the final arbiter of justice,” said Uche Okwukwu, a Barrister.

Okwukwu, who happens to be former Secretary General, Ohaneze Ndi Igbo worldwide noted that the Order of perpetual injunction restrained the Defendants, and all other persons on whose behalf they are sued, the obliteration of all marks bearing “Eagle Stout” in their possession/custody or control.

“The nine points detailed in the Judgment Order are stern warnings against flagrant infringement of intellectual property of institutions in any guise. The Nigerian economy will be better sustained by Companies respecting and abiding by international obligations and best practices,” he added.

Golden Guinea Breweries Plc was established by Premier of the defunct Eastern Region, Michael Okpara. The company was originally named Independence Brewery Limited.

It started production in 1963 with an annual capacity of 1 million gallons. The company introduced Eagle Stout to the market in 1967 but between 1967 and 1970, further production was hampered by the Nigerian Civil War.

Golden Guinea Breweries Plc was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) now Nigerian Exchange Limited (NGX) on January 1, 1979. Its production was shutdown in 2003 following a fire outbreak which affected its boiler. Pan Marine Investments Limited is currently the core investor in Golden Guinea Breweries Plc and it has intensified efforts to further flood the market with its products after commencing production few years ago.

Read also: Nigerian Breweries, NEM, UACN, others cause market’s N114bn gain

In its 2022 financial year to March 31, Golden Guinea Breweries posted revenue of N2.047 billion as against N1.463billion in 2021, up 40 percent. Though its loss widened by 121 percent to N498.6million from N225.879million in 2021.

The financial report shows the principal activities of the company are brewing, packaging, marketing, and distribution of Golden Guinea lager beer, Golden Guinea Malta, Eagle Stout, Bergedorf lager beer, Golden Malta, Oldsborg lager beer, and Oldsborg Malta.

The company gradually increased business operations in 2022, as it resumed in 2020 financial year the principal activities, with brewing, bottling, and marketing of Golden Guinea Lager beer, Golden Malta, Oldsborg Lager beer, and Oldsborg Malta.

“The Company continues to carry out
activities focused on expanding capacities and accelerating penetration across the markets. Also, positive results are being achieved in sourcing the funds and working capital required to accomplish remaining rehabilitation activities and resume operations on all the company’s
product lines before the end of the next financial year,” it noted in the financial statement at the NGX.

With the efforts of the core investor, and the support of both Abia State and Federal Government, some of Golden Guinea functioning production equipment include the Fermenting Plants, Bright Beer Tank (BBT) unit, two big Boilers, CO2 Plants, Mash Filter Units, the Grain Handling Plants, Weighing Scale, Hammer Mill and Roller Mill, the Polisher, Receiving Scale, and the Silos.

The Nigerian brewery industry is dominated by three brewing giants that are subsidiaries of key global brands – Nigerian Breweries (Subsidiary of Netherlands-based Heineken International), Guinness Nigeria (subsidiary of Diageo, England but Tolaram has agreed to acquire Diageo’s 58.02 percent shareholding in Guinness Nigeria Plc), and SABMiller (Subsidiary of AB InBev, Belgium).

Under a licensing agreement with Holsten Brauerei AG of Hamburg, Germany, Golden Guinea Breweries Plc produces and markets Golden Guinea Lager beer, Eagle Stout, Bergedorf Premium Lager and Bergedorf Malta, among others.