On Monday, November 20, 2017, in Sydney, SPI Group achieved a significant legal victory in its 13 year defense of a litigation brought by Russian state-owned entity Federal Treasury Enterprise Sojuzplodoimport (FKP or FTE) over the ownership of the SPI Group's Stolichnaya trademarks in Australia.
In what was acknowledged by the Federal Court of Australia to be an "exceptional step", the Court ordered that FKP's case against SPI be stayed until further notice. The Court confirmed that the Russian Federation was the "real plaintiff" in the proceeding, and the case is now suspended unless and until the Russian Federation produces documents that it has been withholding for years.
The dispute stretches back to March 13, 2000, when Vladimir Putin issued an order requiring the "restoration" of the Stolichnaya trademarks to the state and instructing Russian state authorities to provide monthly reports on such efforts. Then, on July 6, 2001, the Russian government issued a secret resolution establishing a working group of representatives of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (V.G.Mishin); the General Prosecutor's Office (L.P.Kuleba); the Federal Security Service (A.A.Fatekhov); the representative of the Government in the Constitutional Court, Highest Arbitrazh Court and Supreme Court (M.Yu.Barschevsky); and other officials. The resolution appointed the then deputy Minister of Agriculture and later General Director of FKP, Vladimir Loginov, as the head of the working group. In its decision, the Australian Court referred to, among other things, the above-described order and resolution as evidencing the involvement of the Russian Federation in the Australian litigation.
The Court noted the failure of the Russian Federation to produce numerous categories of documents, including:
The monthly reports requested by Vladimir Putin from various senior Russian officials (including the Government of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of the Interior) in his March 2000 order.
Documents that were seized by Russian law enforcement officials in multiple raids of SPI's premises in Moscow during the period from 1999 to 2007.
Documents contained in 'secret archives', including those kept by the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of the Russian Federation.
Documents and correspondence created or received by the above-mentioned working group.
Documents concerning the process leading to the creation of FGUP (an entity from which FKP claims it received rights to the Stolichnaya trademarks, even though according to SPI, FGUP did not exist until 2001).
If the Russian Federation does not produce the relevant documents by 30 November 2018, SPI may seek the formal dismissal of FKP's claim.
This decision is a comprehensive win for SPI.
The Court also ordered that FKP pay SPI's legal costs.
In early November 2017, the Discovery Master appointed by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted a motion to compel in favour of SPI, and stayed discovery in the U.S. case for 45 days or until FKP completes production of documents from various agencies of the Russian Federation, whichever is longer.
The Discovery Master ordered that nine categories of documents relevant to the parties' dispute over the U.S. Stolichnaya trademarks be produced from the Federal Agency for the Management of State Property; Rosalcohol; the Ministry of Agriculture; the Ministry of Property Relations of the Russian Federation; Rospatent; the Apparatus of the Russian Federation Government; and the Administration of the Russian Federation President.
This marks a significant victory for SPI because the claims in relation to the U.S. trademarks cannot be fairly adjudicated without discovery from the Russian Federation.
On October 31, 2017, the Federal Court of Appeal of Brazil announced a decision on the appeal in the Stolichnaya trademark case confirming the SPI Group's ownership of the trademarks. The Court of Appeal's decision was unanimous, with the Judges ruling 3-0 in favor of SPI.
This decision marks another defeat for FKP and three other related parties, and comes after several interlocutory decisions, including at the Superior Court of Justice's level, and after the Federal Court of Rio de Janeiro'sMarch 2016 ruling in SPI's favor on the merits.
The Australian and U.S. orders and the Brazilian decision mark significant victories for SPI on three different continents within three weeks. SPI Group continues to expect positive results because the plaintiffs' claims in the long-standing dispute have no merit.
SPI and its affiliates own the Stolichnaya trademarks in more than 180 countries.