Senators Introduce Bill That Could Prevent Cuban Havana Club Rum From Ever Entering US Market
Senator Bob Menedez (D-N.J.) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) reintroduced a bipartisan bill to prohibit the use of trademarks for businesses confiscated by the Cuban government. This bill has the potential to severely affect Cuban rum brands, particularly Cuban Havana Club. This brand was specifically called out in the recently released statement relating to this legislation.
The bill is called No Stolen Trademarks Honored in America Act. Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) also introduced it in the U.S. House of Representatives
The bill was initially introduced in May 2021 with the purpose of barring U.S. courts from enforcing or validating trademarks that the Cuban government confiscated.
“Any confiscation or seizure of assets by the Cuban regime is and will always be a criminal act that should not be rewarded by the U.S. government,” said Sen. Menendez in a statement. “This legislation would codify into law longstanding U.S. policy of supporting rightful owners of stolen property by guaranteeing that American courts and the executive branch only recognize the rights of those whose trademarks were illegally taken by the Cuban government.”
The bipartisan, bicameral bill would prevent individuals from using certain trademarks in the U.S. The legislation targets branding for businesses or assets that were seized by the Cuban government. Therefore, an individual or company would not be allowed to license a trademark if they knew or had reason to know that the Cuban government acquired it illegally.
“There is bipartisan support to protect Americans who had property stolen by the Cuban regime. For years, the Cuban dictatorship has benefited from the confiscation of property. We must ensure that federal agencies and U.S. courts will not recognize, or validate any trademark rights that were illegally stolen from the rightful owners by the Cuban regime,” said Sen. Rubio.
The example provided highlights the acquisition of the Cuban Havana Club. For a long time now, Pernod Ricard and Bacardi have been at odds over the ownership of the Havana Club trademark.
In the 1990s Pernod Ricard set up a joint venture with Cubaexport to distribute Havana Club. Around the same time, Bacardi is said to have purchased the original recipe and brand from an exiled member of the Arechabala family. Cuba seized the Havana Club brand from this family along with the company José Arechabala S.A.’s assets. Bacardi has long argued that the Havana Club name was unlawfully seized and has been fighting to gain complete control of the trademark, at least in the U.S.
In 2021, Bacardi sued the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), because Cubaexport allowed the trademark to elapse in 2006 after failing to get a license from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Instead of the trademark expiring, the PTO renewed it once the OFAC provided a license in 2016.
In the official complaint, Bacardi stated, “some ten years after the registration had expired is a moral outrage to be sure, but also violates the law and must be set aside.”
If the bill becomes law it is highly likely that the Havana Club trademark would fall under the No Stolen Trademarks Honored in America Act. As a result, Bacardi would be able to take ownership of the Havana Club name.
The timing of the reintroduction of this legislation coincides with another bipartisan bill that was introduced to end the Cuba trade embargo. The groups behind the two separate bills often do not agree on policy relating to Cuba. If both bills pass then the US will have the potential to trade Cuban rum again but under different trademarks. This could create an unsurmountable challenge for brands, especially Pernod Ricard’s Havana Club.
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