It’s a story about McDonald’s, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Peppa Pig and your business – especially if you have a desire to do business abroad.
We’ll start with the Peppa Pig portion. Perhaps you are familiar? It is a British cartoon launched in 2004, and was then acquired by its parent company Hasbro in 2019 for 4 billion.
It is a multi-level intellectual property, including books, movies, theme parks and video games. It’s so popular that some American pre-school parents say their kids take British slang and even accent away from watching it.
With a valuable asset, it’s probably no surprise that entrepreneurs around the world sometimes try to create knock-offs.
But what Was Surprisingly – and worrying for many trademark holders doing business in Russia – a court held about 600 miles outside Moscow last month held that “due to the friendly action of the United States and its affiliated foreign countries,” the Peppa Pig was now largely unenforceable in Russia.
The ruling would mean that a Russian company could simply use the Peppa Pig character in anything in Russia, and the decision came later. The Russian government has threatened to “suspend” trademark and patent rights
Of course, this came in the wake of sanctions and the expulsion of Western companies from Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. Most Western companies have no choice but to go, as many of their customers are legitimately terrified by the brutality of the aggression.
Now, there is reason to doubt that Peppa Pigg’s verdict will stand, as Josh Garben, an intellectual property lawyer in Washington, D.C., noted in an interview that the judge who made the ruling will sit in a lower court and the case must be appealed.
But, he added: “It gives you another one of these tea leaves that trademark rights in Russia are definitely being attacked. How far is this going to go?… There are some legitimate concerns.”
The Peppa Pig breach is serious, but a more notable example is almost immediately McDonald’s announced last month that it was suspending its activities in Russia.
“They have announced that they are closing,” said Bachelov Volodin, speaker of the lower house of parliament, known as the State Duma. “Okay, okay, stop. But tomorrow we should have Uncle Vanier in those places, not McDonald’s.”
Sure enough, a Moscow company almost immediately filed for a trademark for “Uncle Vania”, the name of a 19th-century play by Anton Chekhov, with a Cyrillic character-logo that certainly looks a lot like McDonald’s Golden.
Now, the Uncle Vania trademark application was apparently withdrawn a few days later (and hundreds of media articles). It’s also not clear if it was actually a chain or an ambitious chain of actual restaurants.
At least we know that even if McDonald’s no longer works in Russia, it must have attorneys.
But McDonald’s is just one of dozens or even hundreds of Western companies that have seen Russian companies, entrepreneurs and squatters try to grab their trademarks since the attack. Among the Western losers: Coca-Cola, Mercedes, Nike, Starbucks and many other iconic brands.
Meanwhile, so little Western journalism is coming out of Russia now that Russia has threatened to send journalists to prison if they do anything like referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an “invasion” that it is really hard to know what is going on inside. Country
But, combine the above – the frenzy of trademark applications, the Peppa Pig case, the Russian saber-rattling over intellectual property – and it’s all a cool reminder of how important, and sometimes weak, protection of your intellectual property is. Country
I have asked McDonald’s several times to comment on Squatters’ attempts to grab its trademark, and more than 100 McDonald’s franchises in Russia have simply refused to close, regardless of what McDonald’s wants to do with them in the United States.
However, I did not hear back. Maybe they’re still as heartbreaking as I first realized
Otherwise, they may be dealing with trademark protection issues. If your business is doing business abroad, this is probably something you need to do more.