End of U.S. Rum Trademark War With Cuba Seems Near

By Joseph Mandour on June 8, 2012

whiskey-in-glasses-thumb-200x150-31413 California – The fight between U.S. and Cuba over use of the trademarked Havana Club name in the U.S. appears to be nearing an end. Although it is currently distributed in over 120 countries, Havana Club rum was never distributed in the Unites States, because Cuba refused to allow the brand name to be sold or licensed within the borders of its bitter rival.

The trademark “Havana Club” came up for renewal with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2006, but Cuba has since been unable to renew the trademark. Cuba claims that the U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces the embargo, has not issued the license allowing Cuba to make the $200 renewal payment. Cuba subsequently sued the U.S. government over the issue and lost. The decision against Cuba was handed down on May 14th, beginning the 30-day countdown for the period in which the USPTO can cancel registration of the trademark. Under the 30-day timeline, the Havana Club trademark could expire and be available for new registration in the U.S. as early as June 13th, 2012.

Bacardi, the well-known distributor of rum, currently bottles a rum product that it calls Havana Club Rum. The limited quantity rum product has been distributed in Florida only, but Bacardi has announced plans to expand its sales into other states. However, Cuba considers the use of its brand name in the United States unauthorized, and accuses the U.S. of underhanded maneuvers. If its trademark is allowed to expire in the United States, Cuba promises retaliation against U.S. trademarks currently protected on the island. However, since most U.S. goods are barred from being sold in Cuba under the 50-year embargo, these threats seem hollow. This is not to say that Cuba’s threats are all bark and no bite. Even with the current embargo limitations, owners of many popular trademarked food items could still face costly litigation to win back trademarked rights once the embargo is lifted.

Despite its recent loss and struggles over the use of the Havana Club name in the U.S., Cuba vows to continue fighting for its brand name. Proactive steps have been taken to allow the Havana Club rum formula to be sold under an alternate brand name that has already been registered with the USPTO. The French company who handles distribution has plans to distribute the Havana Club formula under the alternate name Havanista once the U.S. Embargo has been lifted.

Havana Club rum is one of the best selling rums in Cuba, and Cuba is confident the product could do well in the United States as well. Its Havana Club rum formula is exceptionally light and dry, primary because of charcoal filtering and an oak-barrel aging process, which allows for extra sweetness. The Cuban rum company also offers various other rums, ranging in price from a couple of dollars per bottle, to a high-end product that sells for over $1200 dollars a bottle.

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