Attorney number 6 – Patents have been Alexander Polikarpov’s speciality ever since the Soviet period

(IPRinfo 2/2009)

Russian patent legislation is by now almost totally harmonized with other market economies. However, according to patent veteran Alexander Polikarpov, there are still difficulties when it comes to applying the rules in practice.

Trained as a shipbuilding engineer, Alexander Polikarpov became hooked on patents in the mid-1960s, when he got a job in the patent department of a Soviet enterprise. He is still in the same line of work, nowadays as the manager of the St. Petersburg office of the patent, trademark and design agency Papula-Nevinpat.

Compared to the early days of Polikarpov’s career, patent legislation has changed beyond recognition.

– There weren’t patents as such in the Soviet Union. Innovators could be granted an author´s certificate, which entitled them to some form of financial recognition, Polikarpov explains.

Free competition was lacking in the Soviet period and so there was no need for companies to develop better products than their peers. Therefore protecting rights was not particularly important either. The state maintained a monopoly over all forms of trading.

– The state was both the buyer and the seller. The state also owned everything. So nobody could be accused of infringement, as Polikarpov puts it wryly.

Patent engineers become attorneys
The collapse of communism signalled a revolution in intellectual property rights. Amidst the chaos of the transition period, a Soviet patent law was enacted – the first and last of its type. Under the law, former patent engineers became patent attorneys and were allowed to process applications by companies.

Alexander Polikarpov acquired the necessary qualification, for which he received an official certificate: he became patent attorney number 6.

At about the same time, Antti Papula, the owner of a Finnish patent office, came to St. Petersburg on a lecture tour. He had a hunch that the opening up of the Russian market spelled huge opportunities for business.

Papula met Polikarpov, who at the time was working in the Soviet state patent services bureau. Not only did Polikarpov know his patents, his fluency in English meant that he could communicate with foreigners – a rare skill indeed in Soviet times.

Papula’s voyage of discovery led to the setting-up in 1991 of a joint venture in St. Petersburg – Nevinpat, and Polikarpov was hired to run it. Today the company employs a team of over 30 specialists. According to Polikarpov, the main factor preventing the business expanding further is a lack of skilled staff.

– Our new recruits tend to be engineers or pharma specialists. We train them in the patents business ourselves. A command of English is required, which is a major obstacle. It still isn’t the norm in Russia.

Shortcomings in judges’ expertise
In Russian legislation, patents are prescribed in part 4 of the civil code. The revised law that came into force from the start of 2008 replaced the previous patent law. Polikarpov thinks that Russian legislation on patents and other intellectual property rights is now in line with western countries.

But there are sometimes problems when it comes to implementing the rules because judges are often not fully acquainted with patent matters. Since they lack the expertise, judges hesitate to take responsibility.

– When a patent case comes up in court, the judge will typically turn to the Patent Office. An expert at the office writes an opinion, which then becomes the judge’s verdict.

According to Polikarpov, however, the situation is improving. In large cities like Moscow there are already courts specializing in commercial law, and now that there are more patent cases some judges have specialized in them.

However, Polikarpov thinks that as the application of the law becomes more effective, new threats are emerging to free competition.

– Nowadays the Russian state tries to intervene in everything. That’s not good for the economy.

Part IV of the Civil Code, which came in force on 1 January 2008, codifies the provisions regarding intellectual property in the Russian Federation. At present (May 2009) The text is not available in English in the Internet. It is however, available in Russian e.g. on the website, which includes information on management and accounts issues.

See also two articles on the Russian IP law reform in IPRinfo 1/2008:
”New Arrivals and High Hopes – Intellectual Property in Russia” by Ekaterina Mironova and
”Russian IP Reform Brings Changes in Patenting – Design Remains a Strong Form of Protection” by Petja Papula: