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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soyuzplodimport to Fight for Trademarks

Soyuzplodimport chief Andrei Skurikhin is ready to fight the Agriculture Ministry in court to regain 43 vodka trademarks -- including the world-famous Moskovskaya and Stolichnaya brands -- which Rospatent has returned to the state by re-registering them to the ministry.

The re-registration is a "rude and unlawful confiscation of property," Skurikhin said at a news conference Wednesday. Soyuzplodimport filed an appeal Tuesday with the Moscow arbitration court, he said.

However, Rospatent spokesman Sergei Dychev said that the changes had been made legally. The state patent agency's chief, Alexander Korchagin, could not be reached Wednesday.

The battle between Soyuzplodimport and the state -- which wants to re-nationalize the trademarks -- was renewed after the Supreme Arbitration Court presidium issued a resolution Oct. 16 saying that the company that Soyuzplodimport bought the trademarks from was not their legal owner.

The trademarks were owned by the All-Union Foreign Trade Association Soyuzplodoimport, which after 1992 was privatized and renamed Soyuzplodoimport.

In 1997, the company sold the rights to the 43 trademarks to the similarly named Soyuzplodimport for $300,000. The Audit Chamber, however, put the market value of just two of the company's brands -- Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya -- at about $400 million.

After the sale, Soyuzplodoimport was renamed Plodovaya Co. The Supreme Arbitration Court resolution on Oct. 16 -- which was issued after an appeal by the Prosecutor General's Office -- declared illegal the clause in Plodovaya's charter that says the company is the legal successor of the Soviet-era Soyuzplodoimport.

On Tuesday, Rospatent notified Soyuzplodimport that the trademarks had been reregistered.

Soyuzplodimport's attorney said the case is important to Russia's image abroad as a market economy.

"Against the backdrop of the World Economic Forum -- one of the tasks of which is to show that Russia is a country with an open economy and is prepared to protect investments -- one company that has an exclusive business and which purchased that business has had these trademarks taken from it unlawfully," said the attorney, Timofei Gridneyev.

Since 1997, Soyuzplodimport has invested $5 million in maintaining quality at the vodka factories, said Skurikhin. This could only be ensured by a competitive, private company, he said.

Production and promotion of brands will go ahead as planned, he said.

Alexander Shelemekh, vice president of the Coalition for Property Rights, which works closely with Rospatent, said the case will likely drag on.

"I think we can expect not months, but years of court battle."