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IP in a time of war: a follow-up

In a previous article, we wrote about some of the unforeseen IP consequences of the war in Ukraine: major law firms pulling out of Russia, IP owners pulling out of Russia, IP offices cutting their ties with Russia, and the IP rights of foreign companies being curtailed (nullified even). We looked in some detail at the Peppa Pig case, the one where a Russian court ruled that the infringement of that trade mark by a Russian company was justified because of the war.

Since then, a lot has happened.

FURTHER CASES OF SANCTIONED PIRACY

The official sanctioning of piracy has now moved into the area of copyright. The Russian authorities have blocked well-known social media services like Instagram and YouTube. They’ve announced that they will ignore copyright restrictions in order to “satisfy the demand for (intellectual) goods.” And they’ve allowed Russian versions to start up – one of these newbies goes by the name of RuTube.  

There’s very little subtlety involved here, and according to one report “many appear to be hasty imitations.” One commentator spoke frankly about these imitations: “We are very sad that many good and popular services for different reasons are halting their work in Russia… we are even sadder about what absolute shit is sometimes being offered up as substitutes.”

INTERNATIONAL COMPANIES ARE DROPPING (OR AMENDING) THEIR OWN BRANDS

Here are two examples.

Zurich Insurance

The famous insurer has stopped (well, certainly temporarily curbed) the use of its logo, which comprises a slightly stylised white Z on a blue background. The reason: the logo is deemed to be too close to the stylised letter Z that is used by Russian troops. The letter Z has, of course, been used as a symbol of support for the Russian invasion, appearing on Russian military vehicles, as well as on buildings, roads, cars, T-shirts and flags.  

A while back a Russian gymnast, Ivan Kulliak, made the headlines when he controversially sported the logo on his vest at the medal ceremony of the Gymnastic World Cup in Doha.

Zurich Insurance made the announcement about its logo shortly after it announced that it was no longer taking any new business in Russia. A company spokesperson said this: “We are temporarily removing the use of the letter Z from social media channels where it appears in isolation and could be misinterpreted. We’re monitoring the situation closely and will take further action of and when required.”

This decision to curb usage of the trade mark must surely have been a difficult one. As the spokesperson said: “The Zurich brand has been around for 150 years. It is a trusted brand and we have proven our ability to change and respond to challenges over time.”

It is very likely that the company considered the trade mark implications of its decision seriously. It will certainly want to avoid any claims of abandonment and perhaps vulnerability to removal on the grounds of non-use. In most jurisdictions, this requires non-use for a period of at least five years, and there is provision for exceptional circumstances to be considered.

Stolichnaya

A further case involves a vodka called Stolichnaya. The owner of this brand, a Latvian company called Stoli Group, has decided to change the name of the product to plain Stoli. The change of name will apply throughout the world, with the exception of Russia, where the brand is seemingly owned by a Russian company.

 

According to a report, the Latvian company wishes to change the name of its product for various reasons. One is that the company’s employees “are asking that we take a bold stand… this is one actionable, meaningful thing we can do to make it clear that we support Ukraine.” Another is that the company wants to make it very clear that the product is from Latvia not Russia (the name Stolichnaya, of course, sounds Russian).

WILL WESTERN BRANDS USE THE WAR AS A JUSTIFICATION FOR ADOPTING BRANDS?

We’ll end with a few words about a dispute between two UK brands. The upmarket supermarket chain Waitrose claims that its Essential Waitrose range is being infringed by the Just Essentials range of the somewhat more basic supermarket chain Asda. The war in Ukraine has even managed to get a mention here, with suggestions that, because of the cost-of-living crisis that many countries now find themselves in (something that is almost certainly related to the war in Ukraine) it is necessary for supermarkets to be able to use the term “essentials” to describe their goods. Let’s see how this one develops.

A LAST WORD

When Russia invaded Ukraine few would have imagined that IP rights would even get a mention. Yet, they’re proving to be surprisingly controversial and relevant. It will be very interesting to see how the IP issues that have come up will be resolved when it’s all over.

Gaelyn Scott

IP | Trade Mark Attorney | Executive | Head of Department

gscott@ENSafrica.com