Continuing a legal dispute that dates back to the early days of the Cuban embargo, a ruling in U.S. trademark court has officially renewed the trademark for Havana Club rum to French wine and spirits company Pernod Ricard and Cubaexport, Cuba's government-owned enterprise.
Official confirmation of the renewal comes weeks after the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) formally recognized the trademark. The decision was a defeat for Florida-based Bacardi USA, which produces a Puerto Rican-made version of the brand for the U.S. market and has claimed ownership of the trademark since 1997. However, Bacardi has continued to petition the government and claims it will pursue further legal action in hopes of reversing the decision.
The most recent chapter in the dispute began in August 2006 when the USPTO refused to grant a renewal of the trademark to Pernod Ricard and Cubaexport, the joint venture that produces the rum for the non-U.S. global market. Cubaexport registered a U.S. trademark for Havana Club in 1976 with the intention of distributing the product after the embargo was lifted.
However, when Cubaexport attempted a standard renewal of the trademark in 2006, they were denied due to a law passed by Congress in 1998 recognizing the trademarks of Cuban nationals whose businesses had been seized by Castro's government.
Only a few days after the USPTO refused to renew the trademark, Bacardi announced that it would be relaunching its non-Cuban version of the rum. The company purchased the rights to the rum in 1997 from the Arechabala family—the original makers of Havana Club, who fled Cuba in exile after the government seized the company in 1960.
The fight over the Havana Club name is akin to the longstanding battle over Cohiba cigars. General Cigar Co. has been involved in a similarly epic lawsuit with the Cuban government over the Cohiba brand name.
The ruling in favor of Pernod Ricard and Cubaexport comes on the heels of President Obama making an official announcement calling for an end to the embargo during his 2016 State Of The Union address.
According to Shanken News Daily, Pernod claims it could potentially sell 1.7 million cases of Havana Club on the U.S. market if the embargo is lifted.