Murphy's Law: The AK-47 Wants To Be Free

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May 1,2008: The Russian firm Izhmash (Izhevsk Mechanical Works) holds the patents for the AK-47, and is having little success in trying to force companies in Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Israel, China and the United States to pay licensing fees for the AK-47s they produce. The typical defense is that a much improved rifle is being produced, that has only a superficial similarity to the Izhmash AK-47. Some claim that Russia abandoned the AK-47 design in the 1970s, when they switched to the 5.45mm AK-74. Actually, the original AK-47 design was replaced in 1963, at least in Russia, by the similar (in appearance) AKM.

Izhmash is 201 years old, and was originally founded by the Czarist government as an arsenal, for the production of military weapons. In the 1920s, the firm began to produce motorcycles as well, and later, automobiles. It has long been a major manufacturer of Russian military rifles, machine-guns and pistols.

During the Soviet period (1923-91), there were patent laws on the books, but these were generally not observed, especially when it came to foreign technology. The Soviets would respect patents when it suited their purposes (that is, it was cheaper to get help from the patent holder to implement a technology, than it was to just steal it and figure it out), but generally the concept of intellectual property was ignored. Having allowed that kind of thinking to gain some traction, the Russians have had a hard time enforcing rights to Soviet era Russian inventions in a post-Soviet world.

 


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