By Anthony Boadle | Reuters
HAVANA - French spirits giant Pernod Ricard has won a trademark battle against rival Bacardi but not the war over access to the massive U.S. rum market, its president, Patrick Ricard, said Wednesday.
Publicized with salsa bands and gyrating tropical dancers, Pernod Ricard’s fastest-growing product is the famous Cuban rum Havana Club, which sold 1.9 million 9-litre cases last year.
Pernod Ricard’s joint venture with Cuba, Havana Club International, has been selling the rum worldwide for 10 years, and sales have soared an average 17 percent a year.
But the largest rum market, with 42 percent of the world’s total sales of 38 million cases a year, is closed to the Cuban rum brand by a 4-decade-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba’s communist-run government.
“We have won a battle but not the war,” Ricard said at a news conference in Havana. “If the embargo is lifted tomorrow morning, we are ready to start selling in the United States.”
An appeal board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Jan. 29 upheld the Cuban-French venture’s U.S. registration of the Havana Club brand in 1996 from a challenge by privately held Bacardi, the world’s largest rum maker.
Bacardi, which started as a rum distillery in the eastern Cuban city of Santiago and was expropriated in 1960 after Fidel Castro’s revolution, sued under a 5-year-old law known as Section 211 that prohibits the U.S. government from honoring trademarks confiscated by foreign governments.
The World Trade Organization said in 2002 that Section 211 violated international property protection rights.
Ricard said the Havana Club label was protected in the United States until 2006 when it would have to be renewed. But U.S. sales are banned under the embargo against Cuba, which President Bush has vowed to maintain, despite growing opposition from American business sectors.
“Politics, you never know (when it will be lifted). We will wait. We are prepared for D-day,” Ricard told Reuters.
Havana Club has already outstripped Bacardi in Italy and is growing fast in Germany and other European countries. “We are trying to catch up with them in every other market,” he said.
Havana Club is Pernod’s fourth highest-selling brand of spirits after Ricard anis, Seagram’s gin and Chivas Regal whiskey.