Russia effectively legalised patent theft last week, declaring that the unauthorized use of patents belonging to businesses affiliated with the UK, US, EU, Australia, Ukraine and 17 other “unfriendly nations” will not lead to the affected businesses being compensated.
In addition to this decree, officials in Russia have also hinted to the possibility of removing restrictions on trade marks, according to their state media, leaving large multi-national brands with no legal recourse should copycat businesses utilize the brand as their own.
Opportunists in Russia have already looked to capitalise on this situation, with trade mark applications being filed for businesses that strike a significant resemblance to marks belonging to Ikea, Instagram, McDonald's, and Starbucks. Despite the substantial resemblance these marks have to huge multi-national brands, there is very little these companies can currently do to protect their brands, as the Russian courts will be stacked against them and its unlikely that they will be able to find local counsel due to safety concerns.
This leaves officials of companies operating in Russia in a very difficult scenario, where on one hand, they can protect corporate assets by continuing to operate in Russia (although this likely comes with significant moral and political backlash for the business); or they can halt operations and run the risk of their brand being infringed or diluted, as seen with the Peppa Pig trade mark ruling.
Last week, a Russian court ruled that the Peppa Pig character’s trade marks could be used by Russian businesses without punishment, after Entertainment One - who own the rights to the children's series - had taken legal action against a Russian man who had drawn his own versions of Peppa Pig. When providing the ruling the judge cited the "unfriendly actions of the United States of America and affiliated foreign countries", illustrating how brands from these countries have no immediate recourse to protect against their stolen IP.
In the past, there may have been other avenues available to resolve such cases, and in theory, the World Trade Organization could settle any IP disputes between the U.S. and Russia under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. However, even though both countries have signed onto the treaty, this route is unlikely to prove effective due to the suspension of diplomatic relations, with the US already stating that “the normal rules for our international commercial interaction are over.”
So what does this mean for domains?
There are a number of Russian domain extensions that may see a rise is squatting and other forms on unlawful use considering the Russian Governments approach to IP enforcement. The domain extentions .рус, .moscow and .москва (Cyrillic for Moscow) fall within the UDRP, however .ru, com.ru, .su (Soviet Union – believe it or not!) and .рф (.RU in Cyrillic) are subject to local Russian laws.
At the best of times, local Russian domain disputes can take time and substantial amounts of money to resolve.
If you are able to keep your Russian domains, do so. Do not let them expire! If you are able to secure additional domains to reduce your exposure, register those key domains. Our suggestion is subject to the sanctions applicable in various countries so make sure that the appropriate due diligence is conducted.