Tuesday, February 24, 2015

High Court Hands Win to Cuban Firm Over Use of Cohiba Brand Name in U.S.


WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court gave a victory to state-run Cuban tobacco firm Cubatabaco on Monday by refusing to intervene in the legal case against a U.S.-based rival firm over the Cohiba trademark that both use for their cigars.

The high court refused to hear an appeal by U.S. firm General Cigar seeking to overturn a ruling issued last June by a federal appeals court that found in favor of Cubatabaco.

The decision allows the Cuban firm to once again request that the patent on the Cohiba brand registered by the Delaware-based General Cigar be cancelled, a move the firm must direct to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

The dispute dates back to 2009, when Cubatabaco won a lawsuit against General Cigar for using and marketing the Cohiba brand name for the latter’s products in the United States.

The U.S. firm, which in 1992 began selling Dominican tobacco products under the Cuban Cohiba trademark, appealed the ruling.

Selling Cuban-made Cohiba cigars is prohibited in the United States under the economic embargo imposed on the communist island in 1962.

Culbro Corp., a company that later was acquired by General Cigar, registered the Cohiba trademark in the United States in 1981 and the conglomerate reacquired the rights to the name in 1995.

Meanwhile, Cubatabaco registered the Cohiba trademark in 1972 in Cuba and, later, in more than 100 other countries.

Since then, the U.S. firm has claimed that the embargo against Cuba prevents Cubatabaco from reclaiming patent rights in the United States, while the Cuban firm maintains that a registered trademark was stolen from it.

In its decision last June, the federal appeals court held that Cubatabaco has a legal basis for requesting the cancellation of General Cigar’s patent.

However, Cubatabaco this time placed its request before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which rejected it in 2013 saying that the Cuban firm had no legal basis for the claim.

The case went to the Supreme Court shortly after the historic announcement in mid-December that Washington and Havana are going to resume diplomatic and other ties, although that had no influence on this case since only Congress can lift the embargo on the island and, for the moment, it has not done so.

Among the measures included in the announcement of normalizing relations with Havana, the U.S. government now authorizes travelers who visit Cuba to bring back up to $100 worth of tobacco and alcohol products.


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