Russia’s trademark office is seeing a spike in applications for famous Western brands since the Russian government issued a decree early last month permitting the use of patents from “unfriendly countries” without pay or consent from the owner.
Opportunistic Russians, emboldened by the decree, have so far submitted more than 50 trademark applications for names and logos of well-known brands, including Starbucks, Nespresso, McDonald’s, Mercedes-Benz, Chanel, and Christian Dior.
This comes after hundreds of multinational companies announced they will pull out of Russia, closing stores or suspending operations in response to the war in Ukraine.
It’s unclear if Russia’s trademark authority will grant these applications for registration. Some trademark and patent attorneys have raised concerns when a Russian court in Kirov on March 3 determined that anybody can use the trademarks for Peppa Pig and Daddy Pig, British cartoon characters.
The court ruling cited “unfriendly actions of the United States of America and affiliated foreign countries” as part of the decision.
These actions increase the likelihood of patent infringement in Russia, according to Josh Gerben, a trademark lawyer in Washington.
“The Peppa Pig decision turned a lot of heads because it gave a signal that the courts have probably been ordered to start to allow the piracy of, and the infringement on, intellectual property owned by Western companies,” he wrote in a blog.
According to U.S. trademark attorneys, it takes months in Russia to process these applications.
“Prior to the Ukraine war, it was common to see the Russian trademark office refuse trademarks that were too close to other brands, even those of Western companies,” Gerben wrote.
Among Russia’s list of “unfriendly” countries are the United States, the UK, European Union members, Canada, Japan, and Taiwan.
In response to media reports, the Russian Patent Office (Rospatent) issued a statement on April 1 about recent trademark applications for Western logos and names.
Rospatent stated that these applications will be subjected to thorough examination before being approved and registered in Russia.
Applications for trademark registration don’t automatically provide legal protection under Russian law, the statement reads.
It also clarified the recent application for the “Uncle Vanya” trademark. Last month, a trademark application was filed for the McDonald’s logo, using the name “Uncle Vanya.” However, the application was withdrawn by the applicant 2 weeks after the filing, Rospatent stated.
In reaction to the war in Ukraine, McDonald’s announced on March 8 that it would temporarily close all its 850 locations in Russia. Similarly, coffee giant Starbucks said it would withdraw from the country. As of April 5, more than 600 companies have withdrawn from Russia, according to data collected by Yale professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld.
Maksym Popov, an associate partner at Mentors Law Firm in Ukraine, who tracks the trademark applications by copycats on the Russian government website, found that most applications belong to two entities—the cosmetics company Smart Beauty and the pharmaceutical company Biotekfarm-M. Both firms together filed 37 applications for Western brands and logos.
“In regular times, I could agree with the argument that these are applications from trolls that can be filed in every country. But these are not regular times,” Popov told The Epoch Times.
“The Russian authorities are violating international agreements and are already canceling compensation for patents for owners from unfriendly countries. Russian politicians are calling for the nationalization of Western companies’ assets, and we already know that Russia has stolen 400 leased aircraft,” Popov said.
As a result, it’s possible that Russia may steal Western corporations’ intellectual property, such as trademarks and patents, he said.
According to U.S. trademark attorneys, if the Russian government chooses to infringe intellectual property rights in reaction to Western sanctions, it might have long-term consequences for investments in the country.
Victor Lisovenko, a Russian patent attorney, accused Western media outlets of attempting to make “BIG news” out of these applications in order to appeal to the general population.
He said that “according to Russian legislation, it is absolutely not possible to register a designation” that’s similar to an existing registered trademark, especially one from a famous Western brand.
“It is no surprise the number of such trolls has doubled or tripled, but the legislation has not been changed in this respect at all, and all of such lousy applications are very likely to be withdrawn by the trolls themselves or will be rejected by the Russian patent and trademark office as a result of examination,” he told The Epoch Times in an email.
He said the rationale applied by the judge in Kirov has been found “erroneous” by another court. On March 15, for example, St. Petersburg Commercial Court ruled to collect compensation from the Russian entrepreneur for the infringement of copyright to cartoon characters Peppa Pig and Daddy Pig, he noted.
“Our courts continue to take decisions in favor of the U.S. companies who are the trademark owners in Russia, when it comes to clear infringement actions,” Lisovenko said.