Boris Smirnov, the embattled owner of the Smirnov vodka brand, has announced he is willing to give half of the company to the Russian government to protect it from American competitors, the Associated Press reported.

Smirnov, joint owner of the Trading House of Descendants of Pyotr Smirnov, is currently embroiled in legal disputes in the US and Russia over the trademark for Smirnov vodka.

He is now claiming that Alfa Group, which controls the other half of the Trading House, is attempting to sell the company to Diageo, Smirnov's legal opponent for the Smirnov/Smirnoff trademark and owner of the Smirnoff vodka brand.

The origins of the trademark dispute date back to 1934 when a son of company founder Pyotr Smirnov fled Russia and sold the rights of the brand to US-based Heublein. Heublein, which became UDV North America, and is now owned by Diageo.

However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, two great-grandsons of Pyotr Smirnov claimed the rights to the Smirnov name and established the Trading House of Descendants of Pyotr Smirnov and began producing vodka.

After unsuccessfully attempting to force Diageo to drop its trademark claims, the two great-grandsons fell out last year and one, Andrei Smirnov, handed over control of his half of the company to Alfa-Eko, a subsidiary of Alfa Group the Russian banking group.

This is the latest twist to a story that took on added impetus last year when Alfa-Eko armed guards broke into the Smirnov headquarters to install their own man Sergei Yuzefov as managing director of the Trading House.

The company is now operating with a strange split identity. It has two managing directors, Boris Smirnov and Yuzefov. Smirnov is working from rented offices and Yuzefov is operating from the headquarters surrounded by armed guards. Both men are producing vodka from separate factories.

Alfa is apparently controlling the company on behalf of three off-shore unnamed companies. Boris Smirnov says the Alfa takeover was illegal and Alfa's goal is "to sell to the Americans". He says Alfa is already in talks with UDV.

Alfa-Eko, for its part, maintains it has no interest to sell and only wants to expand production and attract investment.

The Russian government has expressed no interest in the distillery and its press service has not commented.