State company authorized to act in battle for vodka marks

Russian Federation

The Russian government has issued a resolution authorizing Federal State Enterprise Soyuzplodimport (FSES) to represent the interests of the government in the battle for control outside Russia of, among others, the STOLICHNAYA vodka trademark. FSES will be responsible for a number of matters, including continuing the process of re-registration of the mark in various trademark registries around the world.

The dispute over the rights in the STOLICHNAYA mark stems from the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The Russian government claims that employees of a state bureaucracy that administered various trademarks, including the STOLICHNAYA mark, created a company (now known as SPI Group) with virtually the same name as the agency where they worked. It is alleged that the employees then persuaded the Russian trademark office to register the STOLICHNAYA mark and other brands in SPI Group's name. SPI Group has since registered the mark in a number of countries across the world.

In an attempt to regain control of the mark, the Russian government ordered the Russian Patent and Trademark Office to file with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) an application to amend all registrations for STOLICHNAYA so that FSES was indicated as the owner of the mark rather than SPI Group. WIPO formally, without checking the grounds for change of ownership, circulated notification of re-registration among all Madrid Protocol member countries.

However, it appears that a number of countries have refused to acknowledge the rights of FSES in the STOLICHNAYA mark and other brands. (It has been reported that a total of nine countries have rejected the application as of the start of 2005.) According to SPI Group, the Czech State Committee on Industrial Property is the latest national trademark office to have turned down FSES's request. These claims have been refuted by FSES. Vladimir Loginov, Chief Executive Officer of FSES, recently stated that "we have not got a single completed case in any country of the world". He also denied reports that various courts had refused re-registration of STOLICHNAYA and other marks, and noted that FSES has been successful in actions in Azerbaijan, Benelux and Brazil.

The Russian government hopes that its latest resolution authorizing FSES to represent its interests outside Russia will strengthen its position in the ongoing battle for control of the vodka marks.

For discussion of a Russian case involving FSES and SPI Group, see Panel downs PERTSOVKA vodka trademark appeal.

Tamara Istomina, Gowlings International Inc, Moscow

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