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Fabergé and oligarch throw eggs at each other in trademark dispute

Right to name museum after Imperial jewellers is contested as both sides claim win

Alexander Ivanov with a silver Fabergé bunny

A legal battle has reignited between the Russian oligarch Alexander Ivanov and the Fabergé Ltd company over the trademark rights to the Fabergé name. Ivanov opened his Fabergé museum in 2009 in Baden-Baden, a spa town in southwestern Germany. The museum houses hundreds of Fabergé items including a 1902 Fabergé egg made as an engagement gift for Baron Édouard de Rothschild, a member of the French banking dynasty.

The Fabergé company, meanwhile, is now based in London and is owned by the gemstone miner Gemfields. The rights to the Fabergé name changed hands several times after 1917 following the Russian Revolution; Unilever acquired them with the acquisition of Fabergé Inc in 1989 for $1.6bn.

In 2010, a German appeals court ruled in favour of Ivanov in a legal dispute with Fabergé Ltd over trademark rights, which aimed to block the use of the Fabergé trademark by the museum. However, “Fabergé is looking at other options to prevent the use of the Fabergé trademark by the museum,” says a Fabergé Ltd spokesman.

“In 2010, we conclusively won the legal dispute with Fabergé Ltd when a European court ruled that ‘Fabergé Museum’ is in the public domain free for everyone to use. Fabergé Ltd has no chance whatsoever to appeal this decision,” Ivanov says. Meanwhile, Ivanov says that his lawyers continue to work on “depriving” Fabergé Ltd of the rights to the Fabergé trademark. “We want to place it in the public domain so that everyone anywhere can use it freely.”

A Fabergé Ltd spokesman says: “In 2012, the appeal process held that the mere registration of a company name does not create a right (unless, in some cases, prior use of the trademark can be shown).” The museum could not show such use and hence lost the appeal, the spokesman says. “[We] believe Ivanov’s avenues on this front to be exhausted and consequently Fabergé has defeated the attack by the museum against our Fabergé trademark registrations.”

The Russian mining magnate Viktor Vekselberg, who bought Malcolm Forbes’ Fabergé egg collection in 2004 for a sum estimated to be up to $120m, put 4,000 items drawn from his fine and decorative art collection on show in St Petersburg’s Shuvalov Palace, which is due to fully open to the public this month. His institution is also named the Fabergé Museum.

“We have numerous trademark registrations in Russia, but we don’t have the ‘Fabergé Museum’ trademark in the class of trademarks applicable to museums in Russia. That trademark is indeed held by Mr Vekselberg’s museum and therefore they have the right to use it,” says the Fabergé Ltd spokesman.

The investment company Pallinghurst, founded by Brian Gilbertson, is a controlling investor in Gemfields. In 2012, Vekselberg won a legal battle with Gilbertson when a court in the Cayman Islands ruled that Gilbertson had breached his fiduciary duties (the legal responsibilities of directors) by cutting Vekselberg out of a deal to buy the Fabergé Ltd company. However, the judge refused to award Vekselberg compensation.

Fabergé’s workshops in Moscow and St Petersburg, which employed more than 500 craftsmen at the end of the 19th century, are known for their elaborate decorative Easter eggs made for the Russian Imperial court. Fabergé was appointed as Imperial goldsmith in 1885, earning him the sobriquet “jeweller to the tsars”.

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