No final judgment yet on Russian vodka brands

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Den Haag, 17 mei 2017

The Hague District Court has delivered judgment in the proceedings between the Russian state-owned company FKP and the current proprietor of the trademarks Spirits in a case to establish the proprietor of the national trademark registrations of the vodka brands STOLICHNAYA and MOSKOVSKAYA in thirteen countries as well as to determine the validity of the two Benelux trademarks of the vodka brand SPI.

The trademarks

The proceedings concern a total of 25 national word marks and figurative marks for STOLICHNAYA and MOSKOVSKAYA in thirteen countries, namely Italy, Switzerland, France, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Poland, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Cyprus. The proceedings furthermore concern a Benelux word mark and a Benelux figurative mark for SPI vodka.

Background

The vodka brands STOLICHNAYA, MOSKOVSKAYA and SPI used to be state-owned in the times of the former Soviet Union. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the then state-owned company VVO exploited the vodka brands, which were registered to the VVO. It was long assumed in a wide circle that in 1991/1992 the VVO had transformed from a state-owned company to the private company VAO and that, consequently, the trademarks had ceased to be state property. In the 1990’s the Russian Federation also spread the idea that VAO, transformed into a private company, was the proprietor of the trademarks. Ultimately Spirits became the owner of the trademarks. Spirits is now the registered trademark owner.

Around the year 2000, the Russian Federation took the standpoint that Spirits was not the proprietor of the vodka brands because the state-owned VVO had not been legally transformed from state-owned company to private company in 1991/1992.

The judgment

One of the matters in dispute is the question whether VVO was legally transformed from a state-owned company to the private company VAO in 1991/1992.

The court finds that this is not the case, because not all steps required for a legally valid transformation from state-owned company to private company were taken at the time. This means that the trademarks remained Russian state property in that period. This does not, however, provide an answer to the question which party currently owns the trademarks. A number of questions still has to be answered. One of issues is the alleged protection of Spirits as assignee in good faith.

The parties must make statements on the remaining issues as well as the contents of the applicable laws of the thirteen countries, following which these issues will be heard in court. After that has taken place, the court will deliver a next judgment.

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