Cuba Culture

General Cigar loses Cohiba cigar trademark

Posted March 30, 2004 by publisher in Cuba Culture.


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.

Member Comments

On June 27, 2004, Bryan wrote:

And this is the difference between a capitalist democracy and a communist dictatorship.  In the USA, trademark law was interpreted according to its intent and according to justice.  In a communist dictatorship, no corresponding decision would have been rendered.  The communist apparatchik judge would have just ruled according to government policy.  In a country that is not a tyrannical dictatorship, judges are free to disagree with government foreign policy in matters of law.

On January 28, 2005, I-jenny wrote:

Actually Bryan, you’re wrong.In 1998, the Cuban Intellectual Property Office canceled the “Kool Aid” trademark, registered in Cuba since 1951, for non-use. But in August of that year, a Cuban court reversed this decision and ruled in favor of Kraft Foods, Inc., excusing the non-use based on force majeure: the court ruled that since the United Statesí economic blockade prevented Kool Aid from selling their products in Cuba, Kraft was subject to circumstances beyond its control, and therefore still deserving of trademark protection.