Pepper Pig – Could engineering IP be Russia’s next target?

21-03-2022 |   |  By Robin Mitchell

With sanctions against Russia well underway, Russia could start hitting back by not internally enforcing copyright and intellectual property protection. How does Russia allowing Pepper Pig IP infringement affect engineering, what impact would Russia breaking IP rights have, and what does this mean for IP going forward?

How does Russia allowing Pepper Pig IP infringement affect engineering?

In a bizarre series of events, it has come to light that Russian courts will be ruling against the copyright holders of Pepper Pig in retaliation for the many sanctions being placed on Russia by the west. This ruling allows any Russian business to reproduce, alter, and effectively take ownership of the Pepper Pig brand, whether it is creating new shows, merchandise, or other related works.

Now, it may be odd to think that Pepper Pig and engineering would ever be in the same sentence, but the demonstration of the Russian court’s refusal to enforce IP protection sets new precedence on Russia’s view of international IP. Simply put, if Pepper Pig can be copied with zero repercussions, then what is to stop Russian businesses from copying anything, including electronic devices.

Suppose Russia gives the green light for Russian businesses to copy electronic designs regardless of their IP status. It could provide Russia access to a wide range of technologies for which it would otherwise rely on third parties outside their nation. For example, Micron Technology is heavily involved with memory technologies such as Flash and SRAM, and they have been in the news recently for launching IP infringement on Chinese manufacturers.

What impact would Russia breaking IP rights have?

Suppose Russia’s access to electronics becomes severely limited. In that case, it may have no choice but to start scraping all the patent data online, reverse engineering semiconductors, and possibly even bribing employees from outside nations to obtain as much intellectual property as it can. From there, it may be able to start producing its own electronics whose use could be used in both commercial and military applications.

While this may not be entirely a problem from a manufacturing point of view, getting access to semiconductors is a major challenge considering that Russia is not exactly famous for having cutting-edge fabrication facilities. For devices using process nodes smaller than 60nm, Russia is dependent on outside nations, including the US, China, and Taiwan. Considering that the latest semiconductor technology is looking at 5nm, Russia is too far behind to compete technologically.

As such, having access to IP with free reign to copy without repercussion is not enough for Russia to be able to start producing their own devices whose capabilities are near or on-par with western technology. But this is not to say that Russia’s close ties with China could provide Russia with a lifeline to cutting-edge technology. This restricted access to technology may see the two nations work closer together. In fact, it may even be beneficial for China to supply military equipment and technology to Russia for the sake of field testing in a real-world setting, as China has never had the opportunity to test its equipment in a real war.

What does this mean for IP going forward?

Russian copyright law allowing copyright infringement of Pepper Pig may seem silly, but allowing Russian businesses to violate IP does raise serious questions over IP in general. If the whole world is going to place sanctions on all of Russia and its citizens, then why doesn’t Russia just do what it wants internally and copy whatever services it has been denied.

If a new cold war starts where Russia and the west are isolated from each other, IP theft from Russia would not have any monetary impact on engineers as they would not be allowed to sell IP to Russia in the first place (because of sanctions). However, IP theft could lead to Russian products entering the global market via China or other nations allied to Russia, where western products would see a loss in monetary gain.

In the case where Russian products using illegal IP are used in countries that also distribute western products, then it would be up to the host country to decide whether to allow or ban Russian imports. If the Russian products have a significant price advantage, it may be difficult to enforce a ban, especially if the host country has a struggling economy. The west could try to impose sanctions on the host country, but this could lead to a very complex situation, potentially leading to more conflict.

There is very little that engineers can do to protect their IP, as almost anything can be successfully reversed engineered. The only real protection for IP comes from legal enforcement, which is provided by governments, and thus if the Russian government allows IP theft, then there is nothing one can do.


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.

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