Russia’s economy is struggling as global oil prices are on a downslide. The decline has continued for over a year now, and in the past months, the price of crude oil has been exceptionally low. As Russia is heavily dependent on oil and gas revenues, the value of the Russian ruble has gone into a tailspin. The grim economic situation in Russia is under the spotlight in the media week after week.
At Papula-Nevinpat we make sure that our clients’ inventions, trademarks and designs are duly protected in Russia, which many consider a demanding yet interesting market area. With a branch office located in Saint Petersburg, we annually file over 700 patent applications with the Russian patent office (Rospatent) and over 200 with the Eurasian Patent Office (EAPO). The clients we represent before Rospatent include, for instance, several Fortune Global 500 companies.
Foreign applications on a steady increase
Rospatent functions under the Economy Ministry of Russia and is state-financed, unlike the independently operating European Patent Office which is financed by application and examination fees. The effects of the federal budget deficit in the last few years on Rospatent have not so far been visible in patent application activity. The processing time for patent applications has not grown and there have been no unnecessary delays in the registration process.
However, the difficult economic situation has resulted in a significant drop in the number of patent applications filed by Russian companies and private persons in 2014. The number of foreign applications, however, has steadily increased year on year during 2010 to 2014. As evidenced by the rising number of applications, foreign companies have not lost their faith in the Russian market in the long term, but continue to protect their key products in Russia.
Anyone who’s ever worked in Russia will have faced the complicated permit processes and confusing rules. But as far as patents are concerned, they have been spared much of the unnecessarily heavy bureaucracy. For example, filing a patent application is a straightforward process and doesn’t require other documents in addition to the application text. In addition, the official fees for foreign applicants have decreased substantially after Russia’s WTO membership and are now on the same level as the fees for Russian applicants. The basic elements of the registration process are also similar to the process applied by the European Patent Office. For now, procedures for registering license or IP transfer agreements carry the biggest formalities and differences.
Foreign and domestic applicants treated equally
Fortunately, the strained political atmosphere has not affected Rospatent’s operations. I claim that foreign and domestic applicants are treated equally during the application process. For example, during the past year, Rospatent has granted several patents to our client companies from the United States promptly and without unnecessary delays. In some cases, it is possible to have an invention protected quite fast in Russia. As an example, the processing of a utility model application from filing to the grant can take less than 12 months.
As of the beginning of last year, Rospatent has also started to examine the novelty of all utility model applications, which has improved the credibility of granted utility models and reduced misuse of the system. As to patents, protection can be obtained even in a few months due to the Global Patent Prosecution Highway program. This is a cooperation agreement signed by the patent offices of twenty-one countries, including for example the United States, Japan and Korea, which allows accelerated processing of patent applications under certain conditions. The system has functioned effectively in Russia and serves as evidence that Rospatent has not withdrawn from international cooperation.
Yet there’s clearly room for development; in digital services, Rospatent lags miles behind the European Patent Office. In 2014, Rospatent spent over 360 million rubles on IT development projects and new equipment, but electronic client service is still on its way. It is still complicated to do extensive searches of the patent and trademark database.
The Russian patent office operates better than its reputation, and it has not been politicized. The fledgling legislation has been systematically developed to correspond with internationally established practices. Despite the legislative measures, companies operating in Russia must still actively watch for illegal actions and infringements, just as in any other country. However, the best news right now for companies exporting their products to Russia would be to see the ruble getting stronger to raise consumer purchasing power.
Erik Viik, Patent Attorney, 4 February 2016
See also on video what Dr. Teemu Lang, Director (Patent Department), says about a study conducted by Aalto University to find out how Finnish companies see the protection of their IP in Russia and some of the other Eurasian countries: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8m7il-g7GE
You can read the blog in Finnish, Mainettaan parempi Venäjän patenttiviranomainen Rospatent, at the Federation of Finnish Enterprises website.