The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, addressing an issue of first impression among the federal appellate courts under the Lanham Act, has affirmed a district court determination that Federal Treasury Enterprise Sojuzplodoimport (FTE) cannot pursue trademark infringement litigation as a “legal representative” of the Russian Federation because while that government designated FTE as its legal representative, it is not legally unable to bring the suit on its own behalf. Fed. Treasury Enter. Sojuzplodoimport v. SPI Spirits Ltd., No. 11-4109 (2d Cir., decided August 5, 2013).

So ruling, the Second Circuit held that the Lanham Act’s use of the term “legal representative” requires in addition to an appointment that the appointing entity be unable to appear in the litigation. Another issue addressed was whether FTE was an “assign” of the Russian Federation under a series of documents created since 2002; the court concluded that the documents did not create an assignment. The issues arose in the context of litigation begun in 2004 and involved U.S.-registered trademarks related to “Stolichnaya”-brand vodka. FTE and its exclusive licensee, OAO “Moscow Distillery Cristall,” alleged that the defendants’ asserted title to the marks was invalid and that their use of the marks infringed the rights of the true owner, the Russian Federation.

Because the Second Circuit decided that FTE was neither an assign nor legal representative of the Russian Federation under the Lanham Act, it agreed with the district court that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue for infringement under 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1). The court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ third amended complaint with prejudice.