Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
International intrigue. Mysterious deaths. Good vodka. Every once in a while — if they’re lucky — lawyers get a case that sounds like a Hollywood script. After winning an awkward beauty contest, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges may have just that, trying to reclaim what partners say are stolen trademarks for Russia’s beloved Stolichnaya vodka. The trail of theft is complex, Quinn Emanuel lawyers say, originating with the collapse of the Soviet Union. A pair of Russians stole the Stoli trademarks, and using forged documents and shell companies, began shielding them from their rightful owners, according to a complaint filed in New York federal court last week. During the Cold War, the state entity that regulated food and alcohol imports and exports owned trademarks to Stoli. During the turmoil over the collapse of the Soviet Union, employees at the agency duped the Russian patent and trademark office into assigning them the rights to the trademarks, Quinn Emanuel lawyers say. “We all know that when the Soviet Union fell, people rushed in to claim state assets,” says David Quinto, a partner in Quinn Emanuel’s Los Angeles office. “It never struck me that intellectual property would be among the assets stolen.” Eventually, the trademarks — which Quinto said are worth $300 million to $400 million — passed into the hands of Yuri Shefler, head of Spirits International N.V., a Russian company that claims ownership. Shefler, an entrepreneur and one-time political candidate, is now a wanted man in Russia. Two years ago, a Russian court ruled that the reassignment of the vodka trademarks from the government had been improper. Now the Federal Treasury Enterprise Sojuzplodoimport, an arm of the Russian government, is seeking to regain the U.S. rights to the marks. To do that, the Russians turned to Quinn Emanuel. But first, the firm had to participate in a Moscow beauty contest that would have given most lawyers nightmares. Representing Quinn Emanuel were Quinto and partner Steven Madison. Quinto said they competed with several other firms, including Perkins Coie, Coudert Brothers and Hogan & Hartson. They found themselves at a disadvantage, though, when Air France lost their luggage. Madison was wearing an Adidas track suit and Quinto casual business attire as the two made their pitch to representatives of the government and Ost Alco, the distillery that manufacturers Stoli vodka in Russia. The pair had also packed some samples of trademarks they’d successfully defended — Barbie dolls, Adidas shoes, Patr�n tequila and Oscar and Grammy statuettes. Quinto said they had planned to take photos of the would-be clients with the Hollywood statuettes. And they’d even brought along some gifts — Los Angeles Kings hockey jerseys embossed with the names of their potential clients. But all they could do was describe the material. “By the end of the first day I was dying,” Quinto says. “I thought it was the most unprofessional presentation.” The Russians were sympathetic, however, and apparently impressed with what they heard. They picked Quinn Emanuel to go after the marks. The complaint, Federal Treasury Enterprise Sojuzplodoimport v. Spirits International N.V., 04-08510, names Shefler, a cohort and several companies they control. It also names the U.S. supplier of Stoli vodka, Allied Domecq International Holdings B.V. and its U.S. subsidiary, Allied Domecq Spirits & Wines USA. But going from Moscow beauty contest winner to New York litigant was another story, requiring Quinto, Madison and other lawyers at Quinn Emanuel to trace a trademark tale sparked by the end of the Cold War. To help, Quinn Emanuel lawyers traced the Russian government’s investigation of Shefler and his sundry operations. The trademark heist began, the complaint alleges, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. “Russia’s privatization process is perhaps the best modern example of Honore de Balzac’s statement that ‘behind every great wealth, there is a crime,’” the suit contends. “Billion-dollar enterprises were ‘hijacked’ by their managers and/or directors for virtually nothing.” The Stoli trademarks were apparently worth enough to die for — or perhaps kill for. According to the complaint, Russian prosecutors charged Shefler with threatening to murder the director of the Federal Treasury Enterprise, the company that sought to reclaim the trademarks. The complaint also suggests that Shefler may have eliminated other adversaries. It cites the suspicious deaths of two businessmen who collapsed hours after meeting with Shefler, and the murder of another vodka entrepreneur who had filed suit contesting Shefler’s transfer of the trademarks from one company to another. “Trademark disputes do not ordinarily involve murder,” Quinto says. After the rights passed through several Shefler-controlled entities, U.S. companies got involved. For decades, PepsiCo Inc. had exclusive rights to import Stoli vodka into the United States under a licensing deal with the Soviet government. The complaint says Shefler persuaded PepsiCo that his company had successor rights to the marks, and when PepsiCo’s license expired in 2001, the U.S. rights went to the British company Allied Domecq, the world’s second-largest distiller. Allied Domecq contends that the Russian suit is unfounded. “We have a binding agreement with Spirits International that is uncontestable, and we will continue to vigorously defend our contract,” says David Karraker, Allied Domecq’s vice president of corporate communications. Quinn Emanuel lawyers have asked U.S. District Judge George Daniels to cancel the trademarks assigned to Allied Domecq and award unspecified damages. They are also hoping the case gets resolved before it gets any stranger. “We’d like to talk to the defendants to see if there is any creative solution,” Quinto says. However, he doesn’t know where Shefler and his cohort are living. “They’re believed to be somewhere in Europe.”

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.