Smirnoff (Pyotr) Versus Smirnoff (Diageo)

02 August 2005

Diageo, the world's largest peddler of alcoholic products, has been summoned to appear at the Moscow Arbitration Court to explain why it should not cease and desist using the name Smirnoff.

The Russian moniker is unquestionably the world's best known name attached to a hard liquor brand. It is also the only such product to appear in the 2005 Top 100 Global Brand rankings (at number 88) recently compiled by Business Week [WAMN: 25-Jul-05].

Also no doubt whatever that the name is worth a dollar or two - and the Russian descendants of Pyotr Smirnov reckon they'd like a piece of the brand's estimated $3.1 billion worth.

Rejoicing in a company name that could well be a play by Anton Tchekov - The Trading House of the Descendants of Pyotr Smirnov - the heirs of the aforesaid Pyotr are seeking to overturn a 1997 decision by state patent authority Rospatent to license the Smirnoff brand to Diageo.

Says the general director of the Trading House Andrei Kravets: "From our point of view, Rospatent … maliciously violated the law. We consider Diageo to be a pirate, just like those pirates who make counterfeit discs."

The family's attempt to regain their name failed at an earlier hearing in 2002 and the latest case is scheduled for March next year.

But Diageo's Moscow representative Peter Necarsulmer argues that the two vodka brands are priced differently and target different consumer groups.

"Both products are well-known and can be easily distinguished by consumers," said Necarsulmer, who is also the president of the Coalition for Intellectual Property Rights. "There's enough room [for both labels] to compete," he opined.

Pyotr Smirnov founded a vodka distillery in Moscow in the 1860s but fled the country after the 1917 Bolshevik uprising. His descendants resurrected his vodka business in the United States, adopting the French version of the family name.

Russians appear to have little regard for Diageo's bland version of their national tipple. In Mother Russia, which accounts for 80% of global vodka consumption, Smirnoff''s market share is under one percent.

Data sourced from Moscow; additional content by WARC staff