Rum Wars: The U.S.-Cuba Battle over Havana Club May Be Nearing an End
The moment of truth approaches to decide the outcome of a decade of
Cuba-U.S. warring over the Havana Club rum trademark
By Anoosh Chakelian | @anooshchakelian | June 7, 2012
To the long history of animosity between the United States and Cuba —
the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs, the CIA's crazy plots to kill
Fidel Castro — add the battle over who controls the U.S. rights to
Havana Club rum.
The two countries have been wrangling over the trademark to Havana Club
for more ten years, but the battle may now be drawing to a close, with
Cuba's state distillery in danger of losing rights to the brand to
liquor giant Bacardi — which makes its own Havana Club in Puerto Rico,
for sale in the U.S. Ongoing sanctions prevent Cuba from marketing its
version in the U.S., although it's sold in more than 120 other countries
around the world (it's now produced as a joint venture with French
liquor company Pernod Ricard.)
The history of the feud is convoluted: Havana Club was founded in the
Cuban capital by a man named José Arechabala in the 19th Century, but
following the Cuban revolution in 1959, the family company was
nationalized, and the Arechabalas emigrated to the U.S. They let the
trademark lapse in 1976, and in the 1990s they sold their residual
rights to Havana Club to Bacardi.
Cuba claims that when the time came to renew the trademark, in 2006, the
U.S. Treasury Department blocked them from getting the necessary license
as part of an underhanded effort to humiliate the country.
"Cuba does not have a valid registration," said Patricia M. Neal, a
spokeswoman for Bacardi USA, as reported by the Associated Press . "As a
matter of law, the United States Patent and Trademark Office will
formally cancel the registration of Cuba Export for the mark in due course."
On May 14, a 30-day countdown was launched after which the trademark
would be cancelled, which means that later this month, Cuba could lose
all claims to its name in the U.S., and therefore any opportunity for
further legal warring.
Maria de los Angeles Sanchez, director of Cuba's office of intellectual
property, told the AP: "The United States' disrespectful attitude in
divesting the legitimate Cuban owners of the Havana Club brand can put
at risk the brand and patent rights of American companies in our
country." Although as the AP notes, such retaliation would have "limited
immediate impact" — most U.S. goods are barred from the island under the
50-year-old U.S. embargo.