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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coca-Cola Faces Lawsuit for Using 'Iron' in Its Ads

A small and little known Russian firm said Wednesday it was going to sue international soft drinks giant Coca-Cola in a David and Goliath match over the right to use the word zhelezno, or "iron," in advertisements.

Gosudartsvo Sobos claims that the multinational trod heavily across Russian copyright law by using "zhelezno" in a 1998 advertising campaign in breach of what it says is Sobos' legal monopoly on the word, Lyubov Komanova, the director of the legal firm representing Sobos, said Wednesday.

Sobos, a company that provides marketing and transport services, registered "zhelezno" in 1996 as the company's trademark for 42 categories of products including processed food and beverages. It then sold the right to use the word to clients, Komanova said.

Lawyers for Sobos are preparing legal documents to sue Coca-Cola for damages it says were incurred when at least four major clients pulled out of deals with Sobos because of Coca-Cola's use of the slogan. They hope to file the case at the Moscow Arbitration Court next week.

The amount of money sought in damages has not been named.

Coca-Cola retorted Wednesday that Sobos' claims were "ridiculous."

"Sobos is just trying to use Coca-Cola as a multinational cash cow. It has no grounds to sue," Dmitry Chukseyev, chief spokesman for Coca-Cola, said Wednesday. Coca-Cola would fight the case in court "to the very end," he said.

"We're trying to prove that you can't take a word out of the Russian language and put a copyright on it," he said.

"We didn't take them [Sobos] seriously at first, but then we found that they'd registered the word as theirs for an astounding range of products. They'd put a copyright on 'zhelezno' for insecticides and even for hygiene products," he said.

"We're trying to make sure that Russian law is cleared up on this issue," he said.

Legal experts said a court decision on the case might set a precedent for what they say is imperfect Russian copyright legislation.

According to Russian legislation, words of common usage cannot be registered as a trademark. But it is open to interpretation whether "zhelezno" can be considered as common, said Alexei Gulov, a patent law expert with international law firm Allen and Overy.

"Russian trademark law is not very well developed. A court decision on this case could be quite important and give a sign on the future position of Russian courts," Gulov said.

Coca-Cola on Wednesday rejected Sobos' claims it had continued to use "zhelezno" on advertising billboards and vending machines after it had received a written complaint from Sobos.

The multinational removed "zhelezno" from its ads immediately following a meeting with Sobos in August last year when they realized the company was serious about suing, Chukseyev said.