• Kyodo

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Suntory Holdings Ltd. said Tuesday it has filed a lawsuit against rival Asahi Breweries Ltd. to suspend sales and production of nonalcoholic beer-flavored drinks, claiming Asahi infringed on a Suntory patent.

Asahi, which insisted Suntory’s patent was invalid, said it would fight the claim, which was lodged in the Tokyo District Court in January.

The first hearing of the trial was scheduled to open later on Tuesday.

Demand for nonalcoholic beer-flavored drinks has been expanding in recent years as beer sales shrink, with an increasing number of people abstaining from drinking alcohol for health and other reasons.

Suntory holds the top share of the domestic market for nonalcoholic beer-flavored drinks, with sales of its alcohol, calorie and carbohydrate-free, beer-flavored beverage called All-Free totaling 7.2 million cases in 2014.

Asahi had the second-largest share of the domestic market over the same period, with 6.3 million cases of Asahi Dry Zero sold.

One case holds 20 633-milliliter bottles.

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