Protecting Intellectual Property in Russia

Article excerpt

OVERVIEW: In the year since the fall of Communism, Russia has revised its patent, trademark and computer software law to meet generally-accepted international standards. Copyright and trade secret legislation still falls short of international standards, but should be revised by 1994. Companies selling or developing technology in Russia need to comply with the registration formalities of Russian legislation or risk losing their parent and trademark rights. Furthermore, they must ensure that all their Russian employees sign written contracts assigning intellectual property rights and agreeing to respect trade secrets. With its great natural resources, wealth of scientific talent, and improving legislation, Russia is promising, both as a market for and a source of new technology.

No country has the combination of large numbers of brilliant scientists and low salaries that Russia has today. This combination makes attractive the idea of investing in high-technology projects in Russia, where a large research team and its laboratory can be hired for the price of a single researcher in the United States, Germany or Japan. Although coordination of efforts at a distance is a problem, most Russian scientists know English and have access to quick and reliable electronic mail communication.

Russia also can be a major market for advanced technology. Despite current economic difficulties, it remains one of the world's largest producers of industrial goods. Companies developing new technologies must take steps now to protect that technology under Russian intellectual property law or risk losing the Russian market to competitors.

Companies considering starting advanced technology projects in Russia, or marketing their technology there, are probably aware that Soviet law, as it existed in the late 1980s, did not provide adequate protection for intellectual property. Some types of intellectual property were not protected at all (e.g., computer programs, trade secrets), or were protected at too low a level to provide necessary incentives (inventions, copyrightable works). Major improvements were made in Soviet intellectual property law in 1991, but the law still fell short of world standards.

When Russia attained full sovereignty with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, intellectual property protection unexpectedly achieved high priority among law-making activities. Intellectual property legislation was a key element of plans for transition to a market economy. Furthermore, by moving to world standards of intellectual property protection, Russia could show its good faith to prospective international trading partners.

Legislation recently adopted by Russia's Parliament will, on paper at least, bring Russia up fully to international standards of protection of patents, computer software, computer chip designs, and trademarks. However, to take full advantage of this legislation, foreign business partners will need to comply with the formalities of Russian law and to negotiate appropriate contracts with their Russian partners.

The following discussion considers six areas of intellectual property law: Patent law; protection of integrated circuit designs; protection of computer programs and databases; trademark law; copyright law; trade secret law. Legislation to modernize the first four of these areas was passed in the spring of 1992, but was vetoed by President Yeltsin on the basis of technical objections. (The laws failed to take into account the rights of the constituent units within the Russian Federation.) Parliament amended the legislation to meet President Yeltsin's objections and passed it again in September 1992. Modernization of copyright and trade secret law is on the legislative agenda, but will probably not occur until sometime in 1993 or 1994.

CHANGES IN PATENT LAW

The new patent legislation introduces two important changes in patent law. First, it expands the coverage of patent law to cover such important areas as pharmaceuticals and products of genetic engineering. …