The legal battle over the Cohiba name, a fight that has gone on longer than the Second World War, took on new life this week when Judge Robert W. Sweet of the Second District Court of New York ruled in favor of the Cuban cigar industry. The judge issued an injunction for General Cigar Co. to stop selling its Cohiba cigars in the United States and said that: "General Cigar selected Cohiba for a new product [in the early 1990s] in order to exploit the reputation and goodwill of the Cuban Cohiba" in the United States, and that General "continues to profit from the Cuban Cohiba's goodwill."
General intends to appeal. It has the right to continue to sell Dominican Cohiba cigars in the United States until the appeal is decided.
"Judge Sweet's decision fully vindicates the fundamental principle that a company cannot be permitted to reap what it has not sowed, that it cannot be permitted to exploit the goodwill and reputation of another company's product," said Michael Krinsky and David Goldstein, the U.S. attorneys for Cubatabaco, the state-run Havana entity that owns Cuba's cigar brands.
"We strongly disagree with the order issued by the District Courts on December 14, 2009, in the Cohiba matter. We intend to vigorously appeal this matter," said Dan Carr, chief operating officer of General Cigar, in a statement emailed to Cigar Aficionado last night. "The Second Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled in favor of General Cigar when it found General Cigar is the only true holder of valid trademark rights to Cohiba in the United States of America. Until this matter is ultimately decided on appeal, we will continue to supply our retailers and sell General Cigar's Cohiba products to our valued customers in the United States of America."
Rulings have gone back and forth between the Cuban cigar industry and Richmond, Virginia's General Cigar Co. over the past dozen years. Cubatabaco sued General in 1997 regarding the Cohiba mark, trying to cancel General's trademark in the United States. On March 26, 2004, an American judge cancelled General's trademark of Cohiba, ruling in favor of Cubatabaco. General appealed, and continued to sell the cigars, which have a band featuring a red dot. They look quite unlike the Cohibas made in Cuba, which have black, gold and white bands. In February 2005, General won its appeal.
In 2008, the case was reopened in light of a new legal precedent—Cubatabaco appealed to the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, citing a prior ruling as a basis for its claim against General.
Judge Sweet has yet to rule on Cubatabaco's claim to recover the profits General Cigar has made on sales of Cohiba over the years.