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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Starbucks Tiptoes Into Russia

bloombergThe U.S. coffee giant is entangled in a trademark dispute with a Russian firm.
Global coffee behemoth Starbucks is planning expansion into Russia after quietly opening its first outlet in Moscow last week.

The company has been eyeing the capital's expanding coffee culture for years but is entangled in a legal dispute with a local firm claiming ownership of the Starbucks trademark in Russia.

Seattle-based Starbucks opened its first Russian cafe in the basement of the Renaissance Hotel last week. It managed to skirt the trademark question thanks to an international cooperation agreement with Marriott, which owns a stake in the Renaissance.

"We look forward to participating in this market. ... In the next several months, we will have specific answers," said Julio Gutierrez, president of Starbucks Coffee Europe, Middle East and Africa, warding off reporters' questions about the company's specific plans.

Gutierrez flatly dismissed suggestions that the launch was being delayed by the challenge from OOO Starbucks.

"We are the owners of the brand in Russia. We have been for years," he said.

Starbucks originally registered its trademarks with Rospatent in 1997. But OOO Starbucks is claiming that the registrations were inactive too long.

"The Starbucks trademark was canceled because it was not used," said Sergei Zuykov, a lawyer for OOO Starbucks, which acquired the registration last year.

OOO Starbucks owns the Russian rights to several trademarks used worldwide, including a logo strikingly similar to the famous green mermaid, said Yevgeny Ariyevich, a partner at Baker & McKenzie, which is representing the U.S. firm in Russia.

Zuykov denied that OOO Starbucks was acting in bad faith, arguing that the U.S. coffee giant had never been active in Russia. He said that OOO Starbucks was planning to open two cafes in Moscow as soon as the courts confirmed its rights to the trademarks.

But Zuykov said the owner of OOO Starbucks, Natalya Nosova, might be willing to sell the trademarks to the U.S. company if that option turned out to be more profitable than selling coffee.

As for the American Starbucks' plans, Gutierrez said that the company was looking for a local partner.

"Our preferred method is to look for a joint-venture partner to develop the brand with us. ... In the following months, we'll be focusing on that process," he said.

Although Gutierrez declined to name any Russian companies, the U.S. firm is cooperating with the local cafe chain Montana Coffee, which delivers coffee beans to the Moscow Starbucks.

Wednesday's presentation at the Renaissance ended up hosting champions of U.S. business, including visiting Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, no relation to the Starbucks president; U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow; and president of the American Chamber of Commerce, Andrew Somers.

"I hope to have Starbucks shops all over Moscow and all over Russia," the commerce secretary said. "You are doing a lot more than opening a coffee shop. You are spreading values, and we are really proud of that."