The mysterious case of the trademarked beard

A libel suit related to a trademarked beard recently prevented a prominent Russian mathematician from travelling abroad for a conference. Mikhail Verbitsky was sued years ago by a man named I.V. Pugach after Verbitsky ridiculed Pugach’s claim to have exclusive rights to a particular facial hair design. On his blog, Verbitsky lambasted Pugach for trying to have the bearded Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho’s books taken off the shelves in Russia.

From a New York Times blog:

Pugach, whose real first name is obscured by those two initials and whose last name (perhaps adopted) means “scarecrow,” claims to have trademarked a certain beard: the type with no sideburns that covers just the chin and the patch above the upper lip. He says this beard is the exclusive province — even a “racial attribute” — of the Russian people and maintains a Web site that rants about violations of his exclusive rights to it. In his opinion, misuse of the beard, which includes its being worn by non-Russians, amounts to “genocide” (his term).

Verbitsky, according to the story, had no idea the suit had been launched. When he didn’t defend himself, a judge ruled in Pugach’s favour. Nothing came of that ruling, however, until Verbitsky was prevented by a border guard from leaving Russia because of the unpaid judgment. He has since hired a lawyer to fight the claim.