The answer? They are both victims of piracy, or at least that is what the Russian media would have you believe. The issue, from the Russian perspective, is the reverse of the allofmp3.com controversy. Russia accuses the United States and other governments of being complicit in the piracy that costs them $2 billion per year. The issue caused a minor diplomatic incident with Pakistan at a Turkish defense expo last month.
To understand the legal history of the AK-47 you need to understand the intellectual property history of the Soviet Union. Contra to popular belief the communists did not oppose intellectual property (IP). Our Soviet comrades were encouraged to think up inventions, they just has to give the invention to the state! After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution private ownership in general was abolished but IP was overlooked. This oversight was corrected in 1931 when private ownership of IP was banned and the state automatically inherited all rights to inventions. The inventor received some small remuneration in return, presumably only if the invention was used by the state in some capacity.
AK-47 / AKM clone made in Las Vegas by Arsenal Inc.
The Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947
Fast forward about a decade and a young sergeant named Mikhail Kalashnikov starts designing weapons for the Red Army. In 1946 his rifle wins a competition for the next standard issue rifle of the Soviet Union. During the following year the military began adopting the rifle and it was given the infamous designation AK-47, now a household name worldwide.
The Soviet Union was quite happy to allow other communist states to produce the rifle, with many other state and non-state entities around the world producing clones.
The AK-47 patent. Better late than never.
After the fall of communism the Russian Federation and eight other former Soviet Republics formed the Eurasian Patent Organization (EAPC). Izhmash, manufacturer of the AK-74 and AK-10x rifles (AK-47 successors), filed a patent with the EAPC. From the Google Translation of the patent (emphasis added):
Title of invention:
Automatic weapons “Kalashnikov”
Open Joint Stock Company “Izhmash” (RU)
Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, Yuri Alexandrov K.,
Bezborodov Nikolai, Viktor Kalashnikov.
Azariah I. Nesterov, Paranin Valery Nikolaevich (RU)
The Eurasian application N: 970145
Priority of invention:
Date of filing of the Eurasian application: July 24, 1997
Date of registration of the Eurasian Patent
in the Register of Eurasian patents: October 10, 1997
The patent was filed over 50 years after the invention! The patent does not mention when the rifle was actually invented. Under United States law patents expire after 20 years. It seems ridiculous that a company can expect to patent an invention half a century after its invention especially at a time when it is so common that people build it by hand in caves!
Ironically the AK-47 is also the weapon of choice for the modern sea pirate.
US Government purchases of AK-47 rifle
Prior to the recent decision to switch the Iraqi Army over over to the M16 and M4, the US Government was purchasing a lot of AK-47 rifles to supply the fledging Iraqi Army. Russia was not happy about the US purchasing AK-47 clones from manufactures who were significantly under cutting Izhmash. From Novinite.com:
The Americans have allowed Bulgaria to built a plant producing the Kalashnikov sub-machine gun to be sold in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Director for Special Assignments of the Russian Rosoboronexport State Corporation Nikolay Demedyuk stated on Wednesday cited by ITAR-TASS.
The Russians stated that the “Arsenal” production was undercutting the gun prices on international tenders citing as example a 2003 tender for the supply of 40,000 sub-machine guns for the Iraqi army for USD 65 each won by Arsenal and lost by the Russian “Kalashnikov” manufacturer.
Russia has claimed it loses $2 billion per year from counterfeit production with only 10% of AK-47 rifles being produced under license.
Iraqi Military Policeman Training with AK-47 rifle.
Last Month in Turkey
There was a minor diplomatic incident last month at the IDEF ’09 defense expo when the Russian delegation discovered that Pakistan Ordnance Factories had AK-47 clones on display. When confronted the Pakistan stated owned defense manufacture refused to remove the display.
Anatoly Aksenov, a senior advisor to the director general of Rosoboronexport (Russia’s sole export intermediary), said in a press release “Russia will ask IDEF-2009’s administration to impose sanctions on Pakistan’s delegation if the counterfeit weapon is not removed from the booth by tomorrow … is piracy and we will struggle against it.”. The Turkish Ministry of Defense, who organized the expo, acted swiftly and the following day the rifles were removed from display.
According to Mr. Aksenov Turkey is looking to purchase Russian short and medium range anti-aircraft systems, which no doubt gave the Russians much leverage with the Turkish Ministry officials.
The Russian media was quick to point out that the World Trade Organization worries itself with Western music, firms and clothing, but not Russian weaponry. From Lenta.ru (Google Translated):
Piracy in the music and film industry, protection of brand clothing manufacturers, food, tobacco and alcohol have long been one of the nabivshih oskominu so when discussing the economy nowadays. Combating concerned authoritative international organizations such as WTO, and thousands of bureaucrats. The trials against the creators of file-networks follow one after another and stable outside the top list of hot news. And the weapons you can not only forge in the huge quantities, but also opened it to show, without fear of any sanctions or condemnation, or loss of reputation.
Will this be resolved?
Russia wants to join the World Trade Organization. Prior to joining the diplomats will have to define the parameters for recognition of patents. It is unlikely the WTO members will want to open themselves to lawsuits from Russian firms over 50+ year old inventions.