Unilever Starts Food Fight Over Viennetta Trademark

Both rectangular cakes consist of thin layers of chocolate between folds of vanilla ice cream. They sell in similarly designed boxes with almost identical names, Viennetta and Venetsiya.

Consumer goods giant Unilever, which owns the Viennetta brand, is screaming foul. -The company is taking legal action, accusing Moscow firm Metelitsa of trademark infringement.

Metelitsa, in turn, says the form of an ice-cream cake cannot be trademarked any more than the shape of a sausage.

The case casts the spotlight once again on the protection of intellectual property rights in Russia, where violators for years were rarely prosecuted. But foreign companies may well take note of the Unilever case, which comes at a time when the government is actively seeking to protect intellectual property rights as part of a bid to enter the World Trade Organization.

Unilever petitioned the Anti-Monopoly Ministry a few months ago to close down production of Venetsiya, claiming that the name, packaging and "the characteristic outward appearance of the ice-cream cake, the wavy design on the sides and top of the tort" of Metelitsa's Venetsiya violate its exclusive license, according to a company statement.

Rospatent, the government trademark agency, carried out an inquiry on behalf of the Anti-Monopoly Ministry, and found in favor of Unilever.

In reaction, Metelitsa began efforts to cancel the registration of the trademark Viennetta.

An appeal from Metelitsa is scheduled to be heard Wednesday.

Metelitsa will argue, as it has before, that the appearance of a product cannot be copyrighted. It also intends to argue that the cakes resemble each other because they are made by virtually the same Tetra Pak equipment.

The ongoing food fight is not the first time Unilever has had a bone to pick with local rivals. After it bought the Northern Lights cosmetics factory here, it had to deal with illegal use of its Flowers of Russia perfume, a brand that the company failed to trademark. More recently, the company successfully forced local margarine maker Petrosoyuz to stop advertising its Derevenskoye margarine as "soft butter." Unilever's Rama margarine had been losing market share to Derevenskoye.