OfficeScape International investigated for installing ‘counterfeit’ raised flooring in breach of Russian patent laws

A British interior contractor could be facing five years in a Moscow prison after being arrested for infringing Russian patent laws.

Michael Wheller, managing director of OfficeScape International, has been refused permission to leave Moscow before his trial.

Wheller denies charges that his company acted illegally by installing raised flooring in Moscow. Since 1995, OfficeScape has held contracts worth more than £1m a year to install raised flooring in commercial premises in Russia.

According to the prosecutor’s report, Wheller infringed the rights of SN Kardashev and VE Glukhovtsev, who are understood to have held the patent for adjustable flooring in Russia.

OfficeScape had continued to install raised flooring despite being warned not to by Kardashev and Glukhovtsev.

Wheller argues that the case should not have been brought, pointing out that under Russian and UK law firms cannot patent anything if it is in common use in the rest of the world.

Maxim Smal, the lawyer representing Weller, said: “It would be as if someone decided to get a patent on bicycles and demanded royalties from producers and distributors.” Weller is applying to a higher court to get the case dropped.

Last summer, Wheller was interviewed and filmed by Moscow investigators. Later, footage of Wheller and OfficeSpace, intercut with allegations of counterfeit crimes, appeared on five television stations.

Last month, a story appeared in Moscow newspapers and on websites insinuating that OfficeScape had 20 lorries of “counterfeit” flooring stopped at customs.

Wheller said: “A lot of black publicity has been put out. If information is put out by a government department it can be published or broadcast with no fear of being sued.”

In February, Wheller held a press conference to reject the allegations when a man threw a cake at him. He said: “I think somebody was trying to show that they could get me at any moment.”

He is keen to continue working in Russia but is worried about outside interference. “The business environment is good, but there are bandits here.”

The Russian government has recently attempted to clamp down on corruption in the police and security services. Two weeks ago, President Putin fired six deputy ministers of the Interior Ministry, including the head of the tax crimes department.