MOSCOW, November 13 (RAPSI) – A legal dispute over Stolichnaya vodka brand between Russian state-run company Sojuzplodoimport (FTE) and the Dutch-based Spirits International belonging to billionaire Yuri Shefler is to be heard in a Dutch court this week, Telegraph newspaper reported on Monday.
In May, the District Court of The Hague reviewed this case but did not reach a final judgment on who is exactly the owner of Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya brands. The court acknowledged issues with the privatization of Sojuzplodoimport in 1990’s and that the trademarks remained property of Russia.
Yet, the court noted that several questions still remain, such as “the alleged protection of Spirits as assignee in good faith.”
The dispute is concerned with legal status of trademarks in 13 European countries, including Great Britain, which is a major distribution market for Stolichnaya vodka.
Sojuzplodoimport registered the rights to the Stolichnaya brand name in 1974, which were then transferred to its legal successor of the same name in 1991. In 1997 Yuri Shefler bought the rights to several vodka brands, including Stolichnaya, for $300,000.
The Russian authorities disputed the actions Shefler’s company, which granted licenses to use the Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya brands to vodka manufacturers worldwide in the early 1990s.
Shefler said he bought the rights legally after state-owned Sojuzplodoimport was privatized. However, the Russian authorities disagreed and appealed to the Dutch court, starting a series of trials that lasted almost a decade.
On July 26, 2012, The Hague Court of Appeals dismissed the Dutch-based Spirits International’s appeal against the decision giving Russia the rights to the Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya vodka brands. The court also banned the Dutch company from writing "Russkaya Vodka" (Russian Vodka) and "Sdelano v Rossii" (Made in Russia) on the labels.
Europe is a major market for SPI Group. According to Euromonitor International, in 2012 SPI sold 9 million liters of Stolichnaya vodka in Europe, or nearly a third of global sales (33 million liters). Moskovskaya sales worldwide are more modest at only 4.7 million liters.
The case was reviewed in the U.S. where a court repeatedly dismissed a lawsuit brought by Sojuzplodoimport that claimed it was the rightful owner of a Stolichnaya trademark held by distributors.