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U.S. SUPREME COURT
Castro loses fight to competitor over its trademark cigar "Cohiba"
BY FRANCES ROBLES
The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the Cuban government's nine-year legal quest to snuff out that other Cohiba: the Dominican-made stogie sold by an American company.
The Supreme Court Monday let stand a New York appellate court ruling that the U.S. embargo prevents Cuba from obtaining a U.S. registry for its famous Cohiba trademark, cigars long favored by aficionados and even Fidel Castro until he stopped smoking years ago.
But the Cuban cigar company Cubatabaco says it's not giving up and will press the U.S. Department of Treasury for a license that would allow Cuba to register the trademark here. Since the embargo is the only legal obstacle for Cuba, the Treasury license would give Havana grounds to relaunch its court battle, Cubatabaco attorney David Goldstein said.
Although most people think of Cohiba as a Cuban cigar first made in 1966, a stogie by the same name has been manufactured in the Dominican Republic and sold in the United States dating back 25 years. It is the only Cohiba that's legal to buy in the United States.
General Cigar Co. first registered the Cohiba name in the United States in 1981. But cigar sales were lackluster back then, and the company did little with the famed name.
All that changed in 1992, after Castro lost the subsidies from the Soviet Union and Cigar Aficionado magazine extolled the wonders of the Cuban Cohiba to help Castro's regime to get some bitg business.. General Cigar quickly filed to renew its trademark and in 1997 -- with the cigar business booming -- rolled out a new campaign plugging its own Cohibas made from Dominican leaves.
''We had that brand for more than 20 years, and Castro didn't say a word,'' said General Cigar spokeswoman Victoria McKee. ``They are two different cigars.''
General Cigar uses a logo with a red dot in the O of Cohiba, an emblem different from the well-known yellow and black checker board used by Castro's company.
But Castro cried foul, saying General Cigar was deliberately trying to trick consumers into thinking they were smoking the famous Cuban cigars.
'We acted in good faith at all times,' said General Cigar attorney Ignacio Sánchez.
Castro's company, Cubatabaco, sued General Cigar Co. in 1997 in a New York federal court. The Cubans argued that Cohiba's famous name should trump General Cigar's trademark registration. A New York federal judge agreed in 2004 and ordered General Cigar to quit using the name. But General Cigar successfully appealed on the embargo argument.
''General Cigar intentionally exploited the Cohiba theme, and the trial judge agreed,'' Goldstein said. ``We will continue to pursue our application for a license.''
Castro says the United States has a broad obligation to protect ''well-known'' trademarks under the Paris Convention and other treaties.
The company added that hundreds of American companies have more than 5,000 trademarks registered in Cuba,in spite of the U.S. sanctions.