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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Patent Tongue Twister: Russia's Legal Headache

Russians used to soothe their headaches with a drug simply called "aspirin". But for the past two years, they have had to buy a medicine the name of which no one can pronounce: Atsetilsalitsilovaya Kislota.

The reason for the tongue twister is that Aspirin is now a registered trademark of Bayer, a German pharmaceutics giant which owns the trademark Aspirin in 90 countries, including much of Europe.

Mark Nessbach, manager of over-the-counter sales of Bayer medicine in the C. I. S. said that when Bayer registered its trademark in Russia, in 1991, Russian producers had to start calling their headache cure after the principle ingredient, acetylsalicylic acid.

The case is an example of how new Russian laws on patents, trademarks and copyrights are forcing Russian producers and traders to follow international practice. Some progress has been made, but lawyers at a conference on patent and trademark law, which finished in Moscow on Thursday, said that patents are still not safe.

"Everybody is trying to sell something and they don't care about trademarks", said Nessbach. Late last year, a U. S. pharmaceutics company started marketing a medicine under the name Aspirin in Russia. Nessbach said Bayer had informed the company a few weeks ago about its complaint, but had not yet decided on legal action.

Bayer has hired Soyuzpatent, the former state patent monopoly and one of the three largest lawfirms in the world specializing in patent protection.

Mikhail Gorodissky, director general of Soyuzpatent, said that until recently, patents in Russia had little protection and the government, as the only client, decided whether to honor patents and brandnames or not.

But in October, parliament passed a series of laws that Gorodissky said are very close to Western legislation. As it took time to prepare the necessary regulations, Gorodissky said, patent protection became a reality in Russia only in recent months.

While the laws now exist in the statute books, some patent lawyers said it is still hard to enforce its provisions.

Andreas Vgenopoulos, of the Greek-based law firm Vgenopoulos & Partners, represents the U. S. vodka producer Pierre Smirnoff against a Russian competitor, P. A. Smirnov and Descendants.

The two firms are fighting over the rights to the Smimoff trademark in what has developed into the biggest patent battle yet seen in Russia.

Vgenopoulos says that one major problem is the appeal procedure for disputes about patents. The Russian patent committee, Rospatent, ruled in favor of Smirnoff's claim last year, but its appeal commitee allowed the Russian company to use one of its two trademarks, Vgenopoulos said.

When Smirnoff wanted to appeal the verdict, it found that the highest appeal board mentioned in the laws does not yet exist.

Another problem, Vgenopoulos says, is the difficulty of actually enforcing a court ruling. Smirnoff found it was difficult to get an injunction in Russia and may have to wait several years until the court cases have run their full course.