04 November 2019

KWM Wins Long Running Russian Vodka Trade Mark Case

King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) has successfully defended SPI Group, who produces Stolichnaya vodka, against a claim brought on behalf of the Government of the Russian Federation in relation to the ownership of SPI Group’s Stolichnaya trademarks in Australia.

In a comprehensive victory yesterday the Federal Court proceedings, which were filed by Russian state-owned entity Federal Treasury Enterprise Sojuzplodoimport (FKP) 15 years ago, were permanently stayed due to the Russian Federation’s ongoing failure to provide discovery.

The Russian Federation (which the Court has previously found to be the “real plaintiff” in the proceeding) sought to confiscate several Australian trademarks which are owned by SPI Group. The trademarks were owned by a Russian state-owned entity in the early 1990s, and were eventually transferred to SPI Group following privatisation of that entity.

This is the third victory for SPI Group in Australia in as many years. The Court had previously stayed the case in November 2017 on an interim basis due to the ongoing failure of FKP and the Russian Federation to provide discovery. At that time, the Court said that it would entertain an application to dismiss the proceedings entirely if the Russian Federation did not provide proper discovery. The Court permanently stayed the case in May 2019, but left open a question of whether there was any part of FKP’s claims which was not affected by the Russian Federation’s failure to provide discovery. The decision yesterday confirmed that the whole of the case was affected and should be permanently stayed in its entirety.

KWM partners John Swinson and Cate Nagy acted for SPI Group. They were supported by senior associates Karen Litherland and Philippa Macaskill, and solicitors Katie Warner and Jessica Horn.

Commenting on the result, John Swinson said: “This is a very positive result for our client after such long running proceedings. We think this was the longest running Federal Court case presently on the docket in Australia. We are pleased to have acted for SPI Group in this matter to ensure that injustice was not done.

In addition to the win, FKP was ordered to pay SPI Group’s legal costs.

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