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Posted July 29, 2009 by publisher in Cuban American Culture

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BY JAY WEAVER | Miami Herald

The trademarks for two famous Cuban brands—Havana Club rum and Cohiba cigars—could be sold to the highest bidder if a Miami-Dade family who lost a loved one to Castro’s firing squad prevails in court.

Relatives of the late Bobby Fuller, who won a $100 million wrongful-death judgment against the Cuban government, urged a Miami-Dade circuit judge Tuesday to order the sale of Havana Club, Cohiba and 12 other Cuban trademarks to help satisfy their award.

Their legal move will spark a sure-fire controversy, because litigation over Cuban trademarks registered in the United States since the 1963 trade embargo against Cuba has been especially hot over the past decade—particularly involving Havana Club rum.

The Fuller family’s lawyers, Roberto Martinez and Karen O. Stewart, are urging the judge to bring three Cuban entities into court to establish their ownership of the 14 trademarks. The Cuban companies are Cubatabaco, which holds 12 of the trademarks, including Cohiba, Esplendidos and La Perla; Cubaexport, which owns the Havana Club mark; and ETECSA, the Cuban phone monopoly that owns the Calls2Cuba mark.

The lawyers want Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Thomas S. Wilson Jr. to order the Cuban companies to attend a ``show-cause’’ hearing to explain why their trademarks should not be auctioned at a ``public sale to the highest bidder’’ to help satisfy the family’s judgment, according to court papers filed Tuesday.

The aging siblings of Bobby Fuller, executed in 1960 after a botched invasion of Cuba, argue that a 2002 U.S. law benefiting victims of terrorism gives them the right to go after Cuban trademarks to help pay for the wrongful-death judgment.

The family’s trademark bid comes as their lawyers separately seek to garnish from U.S.-licensed phone companies their payments of millions of dollars to Cuba for long-distance phone service between the United States and the island.

Their novel legal move in going after trademarks raises more questions than it answers.

For one thing, the value of the trademarks registered in the United States is unclear. Cuban-made products cannot be sold here. The trademarks’ highest value would be based on a post-embargo marketplace—a possibility that appears closer under the Obama administration.

It is also not clear whether the three Cuban entities can claim ownership of their 14 trademarks in dispute. A 1998 U.S. law prevents Cuban trademark owners from renewing their trademarks in the United States if they were confiscated along with companies nationalized by the Cuban government.

The latest impact of that law: In March, a federal judge in Washington dismissed a lawsuit filed by Cubaexport after the United States denied the renewal of Cuba’s 1976 trademark rights for Havana Club rum. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control refused to renew Cubaexport’s trademark for Havana Club in 2006.

Cubaexport is appealing. Its loss marked a victory for Bacardi U.S.A., the Puerto Rico-based distiller, which has fought hard to control the Havana Club name in the United States.

``Havana Club is not an asset of the Cuban government,’’ Patricia M. Neal, spokeswoman for Bacardi U.S.A., said in a statement.

According to Bacardi, Havana Club was developed in 1935 by a family-owned Cuban company, Jose Arechabala, S.A. After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Fidel Castro’s government seized the family’s company and trademark, and started to produce rum under the Havana Club label. Bacardi bought the original rum recipe and the Havana Club name from the Arechabala family in 1994.

The famous Cohiba brand also has been mired in legal disputes. Although most people think of Cohiba as a Cuban cigar, a stogie by the same name has been manufactured in the Dominican Republic and sold in the United States for 28 years. It is the only Cohiba that is legal to buy in the United States.

An American company, General Cigar, first registered the Cohiba name in the United States in 1981 and has successfully defended its ownership against a long-term Cuban challenge.

Find Cohiba on Amazon

  1. Follow up post #1 added on July 29, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    You can read the comments at the end of the original article but prepare yourself before you read mine.

    UNBELIEVABLE!

    I have read a lot about Cuban Americans doing stupid things before but this one is at the top of the pile.

    “The aging siblings of Bobby Fuller, executed in 1960 after a botched invasion of Cuba, argue that a 2002 U.S. law benefiting victims of terrorism gives them the right to go after Cuban trademarks to help pay for the wrongful-death judgment.”

    So let me get this right. Bobby Fuller invades a foreign country, is captured and executed and then his family is awarded money 49 years later claiming that he was a victim of terrorism?

    Okay, just wanted to make sure I got that right.

    What a disgusting abuse of the US legal system.

    Havana Journal Inc own Cohibas.com and HavanaClubRum.com and both sites are devoted to covering the legal trademark disputes. We have posted a link to this story on both sites in order to get out the information on this shameless UN-AMERICAN lawsuit.



    Cuba consulting services

  2. Follow up post #2 added on July 29, 2009 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    its issues like this that just make it harder for any normalization of relations between Cuba and the USA,
    Wonder if this same court would have also awarded a claim from a British family whose son might have been executed by the Americans in 1776…..
    I’m assuming Bobby Fuller was executed after being a part of the Bay of Bigs fiasco.  If so have big problems seeing how an American court could go along with this.
    Also under the “whats good for the goose ...”  line does this mean the US legal system would go along a foreign court holding the US liable for a death it caused and seizing American assets to pay for it?


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