Havana Club wins dispute, but U.S. market still banned

The United States Patent and Trademark Office recognised Cuba as the legitimate owner of a trademark that was in a legal dispute with the Bacardi firm.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recognised Cuba as the legitimate owner of the Havana Club rum trademark.

Foto: Cubatravel

The legal battle for the Havana Club rum entered with the current year in what seems to be its end after an almost two-decade-long litigation. In mid-January the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granted Cuba the registration and rights of the famous trademark which was in dispute with the Bacardi family. But the Cuban side as well as the rival rum maker, established in Puerto Rico, have given signs that they won’t stay with their arms crossed.

After the initial surprise over this decision, Bacardi asked for the U.S. authorities for explanations of why it had granted the Cuban government the rights over the rum trademark, since it considered that the USPTO did so illegally.


According to USPTO documents which the AFP had access to, the Cuban company Cubaexport presented the documentation before the patent office this month after getting a special authorisation from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on January 11. Cuba had obtained the trademark’s registration in 1976 but in 2006 lost it when it was unable to present a license from the Treasury Department.


This time the USPTO notified attorney David Bernstein, Cubaexport’s representative in New York, of the cessation of the period of ten years since the previous registration, after which this company presented a license authorising the payment of its fee for the renovation of the registration of the Havana Club trademark for another ten years, “as well as all the other necessary transactions.”


The following day, the registration of the trademark was renewed by the Cuban firm “and the USPTO data will be updated according to this,” the document says and adds: “The registration will be sent to the corresponding department for actions consistent with this decision.”

With sales of four million boxes of nine litres, Havana Club rum ranks 24th among the best sold spirits in the world.
With sales of four million boxes of nine litres, Havana Club rum ranks 24th among the best sold spirits in the world.


The ruling will allow Cuba to market the rum in the United States only when Washington lifts the economic blockade applied to the Caribbean nation for more than half a century. Though until then it won’t be able to sell that rum, the decision does give Cuba a legal recourse to confront the use of the trademark by any other entity except Havana Club International S.A., a joint venture between Cuba Ron and the French Pernod-Ricard.


For years Bacardi has been producing in Puerto Rico a rum with a similar trademark and sells it in the United States, under protest by the Cuban government and the firm that owns its, which consider those sales are a commercial theft.


Neither did Cuba, which celebrated the recent U.S. ruling, standby silently after the battle was won.


The Cuban ambassador to the Geneva-based international agencies, Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo, resorted to the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and described as positive and just the recent renewal of the registration of the Havana Club trademark in the United States on behalf of the company Cubaexport.


But the diplomat warned that the validity of Section 211 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1998, the reason for an old legal dispute with the United States, prevents the recognition by that country’s courts of Cuban trademarks and patents. In such a case, she said, the possibility remains latent that the registration of the famous rum is cancelled at any time, backed by that legislation, by decision of a U.S. court.


Havana Club International is present with that rum in more than 140 markets with annual sales of four million boxes of nine litres. Despite the fact that its access to the U.S. market is banned due to the economic blockade, at present it ranks in 24th place in the classification of the 100 best sold spirits sold in the world. Eighty per cent of the exports have Europe as their destination, a bit over 15 per cent is sold in Latin America and Canada, and the rest is marketed in countries of Asia, Africa and Oceania. (2016)

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