As first reported by the New York Times, Fincantieri’s 134m Serene is now owned by Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. He bought the megayacht from her original owner, the Russian billionaire Yuri Shefler. Yet despite having sold the yacht, the vodka magnate worth $2.1 billion according to Forbes has unfinished business with his former floating asset.
When Shefler placed the order for Serene back in 2006, she was the first megayacht project for the shipyard that hitherto was known for its military and commercial vessels. The motoryacht was launched in 2011 and three years later Fincantieri followed up with a second: 140m Ocean Victory for Viktor Rashnikov, another Russian billionaire. But even before her launch, Shefler was on the warpath. He claimed that Serene constituted his intellectual property and sued Fincantieri, saying it had infringed his rights by developing a near sistership withOcean Victory.
The two yachts are still shrouded in secrecy and detailed specifications are unavailable, but they likely share a common technical platform, which is common enough practice even among custom yacht builders. The exterior design of both yachts is by Espen Oeino International, although to this writer at least they look substantially different. All the more surprising, then, that the London court ruled in favour of Shefler and ordered Fincantieri to pay a total of €20.9 million (€13.2 million for the violation of his IP rights, plus €7.7 million for late delivery) to Serena Equity Limited, the company controlled by Shefler that owned Serene.
In July 2015 Fincantieri lodged its opposition with the Trieste Court of Appeal to the claimant’s request for recognition of foreign arbitration awards in Italy, as well as to enforce the revocation of the awards themselves for procedural irregularities. At the same time, Fincantieri launched another motion with the industrial property division of the Court of Venice confirming that Shefler is not the owner of any IP rights in relation to the design of Serene.
In its 2015 Annual Report, Fincantieri put a positive spin on the proceedings when it stated: “The favourable opinion expressed by our lawyers about these court cases remains confirmed.” New hearings were scheduled for 21 September 2016 and SYN.com invited Fincantieri to comment, but no response has been received to date (in March 2016, Ocean Victory was again in the news, sadly for the wrong reasons, when a crew member suffered a fatal accident on board).
The ongoing case highlights just how easily an unwitting shipyard can fall victim to the complexities of IP law, especially when wielded by an irate Russian magnate with very deep pockets. The issue of intellectual property and what constitutes plagiarism in the superyacht industry, or indeed in the design world as a whole, is a challenging one. The lines between inspiration, appropriation and outright theft of IP are blurred and it can sometimes be impossible to determine where plagiarism begins and inspiration ends in an industry where very little is demonstrably new.