In a decidedly jarring twist, a Peppa Pig trade mark ruling in Russia has become the prototype for the Kremlin’s retaliatory intellectual property strategy in response to Russian sanctions.
Peppa Pig is a British children’s series, following the life of 4-year old animated piglet. The show is undoubtedly omnipresent in the lives of preschool aged children (and their parents) and supplemented with a vast global entertainment franchise of books, films, video games, merchandise and theme parks. Since its first airing in 2004 Peppa Pig has amassed a global licensing portfolio of over 1,000 licensees.
In September 2021, Entertainment One brought a claim for trade mark infringement against a Russian entrepreneur, Ivan Kozhevnikov for their interpretation of the “Peppa Pig” and “Daddy Pig” characters. Citing the influence of the “unfriendly actions of the United States of America and affiliated foreign countries”, the arbitration court in Kirov, Russia dismissed the claim.
This decision is an omen of Russia’s wider intellectual property approach in response to the sanctions imposed on them.
On 6 March the Kremlin issued a decree that would enable local companies to use patents and industrial designs where owners are based in “unfriendly countries” without paying any compensation. The list of “unfriendly countries” includes the UK and numbers at least 48 states.
The Peppa Pig decision indicates that the lack of regard for intellectual property rights may expand far beyond products and technologies soon to be in short supply that may be considered essential. Instead, deprivation of any kind resulting from international sanctions may soon be addressed by state sanctioned suspension of intellectual property rights.
For all brand owners that are based in “unfriendly countries” this ruling shows that there will be little recourse against Russian infringement whilst the country remains subject to sanctions. Further, for brands pulling out of Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine, it begs the question of whether their IP then becomes forfeit? Like Kozhevnikov’s version of Peppa Pig, will there be a proliferation of unlicensed Disney characters following the media giant’s declared exodus earlier this month? Will the highly symbolic closing of McDonald’s doors be undercut, as suggested by US lawyer Josh Gerben, by local operators running the stores?
What is clear from this wild west response to intellectual property rights is that Russia knows these sanctions will hurt the Russian population: both in their day-to-day lives and in the growing cultural isolation from the international community.
A Russian court has allowed the free use of Hasbro’s “Peppa Pig” trademarks without legal retaliation in Russia, claiming an “entrepreneur’s” use of the marks was justified in light of the mounting economic sanctions affecting Russia.