The on-again, off-again, on-again battle for the world's most prestigious cigar brand was rejoined this week when a Manhattan appeals court ruled in favor of General Cigar Co. in its 13-year fight with Cuba over the Cohiba brand.
The July 14 ruling reversed a 2009 decision by Second District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet that ruled in favor of Cubatabaco, the state-owned entity that owns all of Cuba's cigar brands. Sweet said General had made its Dominican Cohiba "in order to exploit the reputation and goodwill of the Cuban Cohiba," and enjoined the company to stop selling the product. (General appealed and its sales of Cohiba continued unabated.) Yesterday's ruling, issued by circuit judges Reena Raggi, Gerard E. Lynch and Denny Chin, stated that "We have considered Cubatabaco's other arguments on appeal and conclude that they are without merit."
General has long maintained that it has the right to sell its Cohibas (which are often referred to as "red dot" Cohibas, due to their band design) in the United States.
"The Second Circuit court's ruling affirms what have always believed since we first filed a U.S. application to register the Cohiba trademark in 1978," said Dan Carr, chief operating officer of General Cigar, "that General Cigar is the rightful owner of Cohiba in the U.S."
As expected, the Cuban cigar industry was not happy with the ruling. "Cubatabaco is disappointed with today's decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, but will pursue its available options to vindicate its right to the world famous Cohiba mark," the Cubans said in a prepared statement.
"We continue to remain confident that our exclusive right to the Cohiba cigar brand in the U.S. will be upheld even if Cubatabaco attempts further legal efforts to challenge these rights," said Carr.
Cohiba cigars were created in Cuba after the revolution, and the Cuban version has never been legally sold in the United States due to the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Like virtually every other Cuban cigar, there is a non-Cuban version, in this case one made by General Cigar in Santiago, Dominican Republic. General Cigar registered the rights to the name in the United States. There have also been a host of fraudulent versions of Cohiba made in various countries.
The battle between General and Cuba began when Cubatabaco sued General in 1997 and attempted to cancel General's trademark. The fight has gone back and forth ever since, with rulings for and against each company.
For more on this story, see the next Cigar Insider.