Bacardi seeks reversal of US trademark ruling on Havana Club rum


Miami (AFP)

Bacardi said Tuesday it has asked a federal judge to reverse a US decision granting Cuba US trademark rights for Havana Club rum.

The filing this week marks the latest step in a long running dispute over rights to the iconic brand, which Cuba markets in Europe and hopes to sell in the United States once the US trade embargo is lifted.

Bacardi executive Rick Wilson contended that in granting Cuba the US trademark rights, the US government had failed to "follow established legal and public policy protecting the rights of those who have suffered confiscations of property."

Privately held, Bermuda-based Bacardi says it is the sole owner of Havana Club, which it has been selling in the United States since the mid-1990s.

French spirits and wine company Pernod Ricard sells its Havana Club rum in Cuba and a number of markets, notably Germany, France, Britain and Canada, but not the United States.

The legal battle dates back to the Cuban revolution of 1959, and comes amid thawing US-Cuba diplomatic relations.

The United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations in July 2015.

In its complaint, Bacardi accuses Cuba of using "fraudulent and deceptive" means to win the US rights from the Patent and Trademark Office.

The company says US regulations prohibit recognizing the assertions of the Cuban government, which it says illegally confiscated the business in 1960.

Bacardi, which had made rum in Cuba under its own name and that of Havana Club, left the island that year after Fidel Castro came to power.

The company insists it bought the rights to Havana Club from the Arechabala family, which made the rum until the Cuban government seized its distillery after the revolution.

In 1976, Cuba, which also continued to produce Havana Club, was able to register the trademark in the United States. But it lost the trademark in 2006 when it could not present the necessary license to the Treasury Department.

"In January of this year, the PTO suddenly and unexpectedly reversed course and permitted the Cuba government to renew its Havana Club registration retroactively," Bacardi's complaint says.

Last month, the company filed a request with the Office of Foreign Assets Control -- the Treasury Department's arm that enforces economic and trade sanctions -- to demand the United States reverse the PTO's decision.