Any hopes that Jameson Irish Whiskey had of making inroads into Central Asia's emerging spirits market have suffered a blow after Uzbek officials ruled that it did not have the right to use the brand name in the country.
On August 26, Uzbekistan's Intellectual Property Agency upheld an earlier decision to deny the trademark to the beverage producer Irish Distillers, a subsidiary of France's Pernod-Ricard,
The agency's Council of Appeals ruled that the local Legion Trade Asia company registered the "Jameson" brand in Uzbekistan in 2008 and has the exclusive right to the name.
The Irish company had appealed the initial decision made in June.
The Uzbek judgment said that "the fact that the Jameson trademark was added to Ireland's national database of registered brands in 1998 cannot be taken into account in Uzbekistan."
An Intellectual Property Agency official, who did not wish to be named, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service
that the decision to grant property rights to the local firm was "consistent with both Uzbek and international laws".
"The thing is an Uzbek firm called Legion Trade Asia applied for a patent for the production and sale of a product under a Jameson trademark in 2008," he said. "And the firm was granted the patent. The Irish have the patent for Europe, but they have not formally registered the rights for production and sale under this trademark in Uzbekistan, which they should have done."
'A Cunning Move'
According to the official, the ruling means that only the local company has the right to produce and sell Jameson, which effectively outlaws the Irish-made beverage in Central Asia's most populous country.
He also described the Uzbek company's application for the patent in 2008 as "a cunning move."
"When granting the rights, our agency does not inquire about the name and the history of the brand in question," he said. "If such a brand had not been registered in Uzbekistan before the application was submitted, which was the case here, then we grant the rights."
According to the Russian weekly "Ekspert,"
Legion Trade Asia is the largest importer and retailer of alcoholic beverages in Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, and the surrounding region.
However, a local businessman, who also wished to remain anonymous, told RFE/RL that Legion Trade Asia does not actually exist anymore. "It collapsed into several smaller firms due to a disagreement between the owners, but their products continued," he said.
This was confirmed by the official from the Uzbek Intellectual Property Agency. Nonetheless, he did not divulge any information as to who now owns the rights to the brand but admitted that they might have since been sold to another company,
"So the Irish will have to buy the rights from that company," he added.
It's not the first time that a foreign business has fallen foul of regulatory authorities
in Uzbekistan, whose somewhat murky business climate has proved problematic
for investors in the past.
A spokesperson for Jameson in Dublin told RFE/RL that the company had "no comment" to make on the case.
-- Coilin O'Connor, with reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, RIA Novosti, and KazTAG