Pernod Ricard has opened talks in a bid to settle its dispute with Soyuzplodoimport. The French drinks giant confirmed today (18 May) that discussions with the Russian state-owned company have begun.

Soyuzplodoimport owns the Stolichnaya, Moskovskaya and other vodka brands in Russia, while Pernod and Yury Shefler, a major shareholder of Swiss company SPI (also known, confusingly, as Soyuzplodimport), own the rights to distribute the Stolichnaya brand in countries outside Russia. Soyuzplodoimport has been in dispute with SPI on the matter since 2002.

In 2003, the World Intellectual Property Organisation ruled that the Stolichnaya brand, as well as some other famous brands, should belong to Soyuzplodoimport, and not to SPI.

Soyuzplodoimport sold its rights to the brands to SPI in 1997. The vodka trademarks were sold for US$300,000 at the time. The market price for just two brands, Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya, was then estimated at US$400m.

Pernod hopes the talks will result in the two sides "finding a common agreement regarding the future development of a number of selected Russian spirits brands, including the Stolichnaya vodka brand.

"The discussions are ongoing and, while no assurances can be provided that an agreement can be reached, it is the firm intention of both companies to finalise these talks in a swift manner," Pernod added.

Soyuzplodoimport has retained Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein as financial advisor for the talks, while Pernod has retained Morgan Stanley.

"In connection with these discussions, the parties have signed a confidentiality agreement," Pernod concluded. "No further announcement will be forthcoming until the conclusion of the negotiations."