Florida lawmakers ask Trump administration to revoke Havana Club
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
A bipartisan Florida Congressional delegation is asking the Trump
administration to revoke a license granted to a Cuban company to
register the Havana Club rum trademark in the United States as part of a
Cuba policy review now under way.
The 25 House representatives, led by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and
Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, issued a letter asking the
departments of State and Treasury to revise the February 2016 decision,
when the Treasury's Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) — following
a State Department recommendation — broke a long-standing position and
granted a license to the Cubaexport company that allowed it to register
the Havana Club rum brand in the U.S.
"We believe that OFAC's decision to depart from precedent is untenable
and that the Executive branch must continue to honor our nation's
intellectual property laws and policies," the letter said.
The lawmakers specifically asked for explanations about why OFAC did not
apply section 211 — in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1998 — which
stipulates that OFAC should investigate whether the trademark in
question is linked to confiscated property, and whether the party
seeking registration has obtained permission from the original owners of
the stolen mark.
The Congress members said they are worried about the precedent set by
the decision, which could affect other cases and weaken protection
against the expropriation of U.S. intellectual property by foreign
governments. Also, they rejected the argument made by the State
Department — under former President Barack Obama — that the granting of
the license was consistent with the new foreign policy toward Cuba.
"It was a decision made for political expedience that ignored standing
U.S. law and potentially opened a Pandora's box that could see U.S.
intellectual property rights holders subject to unlawful and unjust
foreign confiscations," Ros-Lehtinen said.
Wasserman Schultz also urged OFAC to "reverse this misguided decision
and send a loud and clear message to the international community that
the United States has been and always will be a global leader on
intellectual property rights."
Amy Federman, a Bacardí spokeswoman, said the company was "pleased to
see that support for intellectual property rights and opposing illegal
foreign confiscations continues to have bipartisan Congressional support."
"The company supports both legislation and legal action to uphold the
principle of protection of trademarks and ensuring trademarks that have
been confiscated by the Cuban government without the consent of their
rightful owners not be recognized by the international community," she
The complicated case involves property confiscated by the Castro
government of the Arechabala family, the original producer of the Havana
Club rum. Bacardí — also a famous producer of rum expropriated by the
Cuban government, which has legally battled for control of the trademark
— claims to be the legitimate heir of the brand because it bought the
rights in an agreement with the Arechabala company in 1997. Both
entities assert that they have never authorized Cubaexport to use the
Havana Club trademark.
But Cubaexport managed to register the trademark — fraudulently,
according to Bacardí, because it was done without mention of the
confiscated properties — during a period in which the Arechabala company
left its registration to expire. In 2006, the OFAC denied Cubaexport the
ability to pay for its renewal. An appeal by the Cuban government
reached the Supreme Court, which dismissed the case and sent it back to
the Patent and Trademark Office.
Last year's decision took Bacardí by surprise, and the company
immediately filed an amended complaint with the U.S. District Court for
the District of Columbia. According to a company spokeswoman, nothing
has yet moved in court.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres
Source: Florida lawmakers to Trump: revoke Havana Club trademark license
| Miami Herald -