U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet, in a 137-page opinion filed in Manhattan federal court, ruled that New York’s General Cigar can no longer use the Cohiba name as it belongs to Empresa Cubana del Tabaco, doing business as Cubatabaco, which is owned by the Cuban government.
General Cigar, which manufactures and markets the Cohiba brand in the United States, said it would immediately appeal the ruling.
“We are obviously disappointed in the judge’s ruling. Based on our long-standing U.S. registration of the Cohiba brand and Cubatabaco’s acquiescence for almost two decades, we marketed this brand with the confidence that we owned the mark,” said Edgar Cullman, Jr., chief executive of General Cigar.
“We intend to appeal this decision and feel confident that it will be overturned.”
The complex trademark litigation began in 1997 when the Cuban company first filed suit in federal court. Although the two sides began settlement talks that year and proceedings were temporarily halted, they were unable to reach an agreement. Litigation was renewed in 2000 and Sweet held a bench trial without a jury in the case last year.
The case was complicated because of American’s trade embargo against Cuba. Although the Cuban company cannot sell its products in the United States, it alleged in its suit that the Cohiba mark is well known in this country.
General Cigar received its first registration of the Cohiba trademark in the United States in 1981, and obtained an updated registration in 1995. The company has been selling its Dominican Cohiba cigar in the United States for over two decades.