The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted Cuba temporary registration and trademark rights of Club Havana rum, currently headlocked in a legal battle with the Bacardi company.
The decision will have no immediate commercial effect, but brings closer the possibility of the most famous Cuban drink penetrating the U.S. market, the Miami Herald reports.
With headquarters in Bermuda but of Cuban origin, Bacardi, whose executives left the island after the 1959 revolution, sold rum to the U.S. which had been produced in Puerto Rico under the same label.
USPTO’s decision allowed the state company Cubaexport to renew its registration but only until next Wednesday, January 27, given that renewals apply for ten-year-periods; in this case from 2006-2016.
The Cuban company has already begun the process to extend the registration until 2026, although it is not known if this will be permitted, according to Olivier Cavil, a spokesman for the French company Pernod Ricard, which set up the joint venture Havana Club International.
When asked about the impact of the USPTO decision, Cavil said “it is not highly significant as the embargo remains in place.”
Cuban products are still banned from the U.S. due to the economic blockade in force since 1962.
A ruling by the District Court of Columbia, U.S., is still anticipated in regard to a complaint by Bacardi against Cubaexport for ownership of the trademark on U.S. territory.
The history of this “rum war” extends to the post-revolution years.
When Fidel Castro came to power in 1960 the rum factory Havana Club, owned by the Arechabala family, was expropriated.
While the same happened with Bacardi, the firm continued manufacturing in distilleries they already owned in nearby Puerto Rico.
With new relations emerging between the U.S. and Cuba, there is speculation as to whether the move could be political.
“I can’t explain the reasons why the Patent Office gave the brand back to Cuba, but many legal experts have criticized the earlier decision to deny the trademark to the Cuban government. I would agree with those who say that the Obama Administration has given the brand back to Cuba as part of its policy of reconciliation with Cuba,” said Tom Gjelten, author of ‘Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba’, to Chilean newspaper La Tercera.
In 2006 Cubaexport wanted to renew its rights to the Havana Club brand. The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) declined their request, stating that granting the license would “go against the grain of American politics.” Hence, the Cubaexport registration expired.
The dispute over the brand is long-standing, as during two decades Cuba has voiced claims before the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, with the support of a group of countries who have accused the U.S. of permitting trademark infringement.
The Corporation Havana Club International SA, recently launched a new rum, Havanista, for sale on the U.S. market.
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