The state-owned vodka group Soyuzplodimport has unexpectedly turned the attentions of its lawyers away from its long-standing adversary, the privately-owned SPI, and instead filed a complaint against the registration of the trademark Cristall.

According to reports in the Russian business daily Vedomosti, which cited a source from the state trademark and patent agency Rospatent, Soyuzplodimport argues that 'Cristall' is similar to the point of confusion to one of its trademarks - Kristal.

There are some 13 vodkas in the Cristall 'black label' range of premium vodkas from Cristall's distillery in Kaluga. Kristall Trade and Industrial Group, the business that owns the brand, is estimated to make around US$400m a year.

Soyuzplodoimport spokesman Vladimir Uvatenko told the Moscow Times that he was unable to elaborate on the government's case. However he did say that the Kristal trademark had belonged to the state "since time immemorial."

The Moscow Times also quoted Yakov Mastinsky, a lawyer for the Kristall Trade and Industrial Group, saying: "Soyuzplodoimport has no legal or factual basis for disputing [this registration].

"Why are they doing this? Before they were involved only with SPI, but today they are objecting to a trademark belonging to us. The management of the group considers this action an attempt to camouflage their business failures."

The case is due to be heard by the chamber for patent disputes on Feb. 16.

Until now, Soyuzplodoimport's legal battles with its rivals have been focussed on SPI, the private group, which holds the international rights to the most successful Russian brands globally, Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya.