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Stogie News: Cuba Wins Latest Battle Over Cohiba Name

10 Dec 2008

As we reported Friday, a legal ruling in the decade-long battle over the Cohiba brand name could be a major setback for the General Cigar Co. General, a subsidiary of Swedish Match AB and one of the largest premium cigar makers in the world, makes and distributes such famous brands in the U.S. as Macanudo, Partagas, Punch, Hoyo de Monterrey, Bolivar, La Gloria Cubana, and many others.

But the General brand at the heart of the controversy is Cohiba, perhaps the most famous trademark in cigars. Last month Cubatabacco, the storied Cuban tobacco monopoly (also known as Habanos SA), won a major victory in the latest decision in the protracted legal fight with General over the Cohba name. The key decision changed the standard that determines who has the rights to the Cohiba trademark—rendering a 2004 ruling against General Cigar Co. upheld.

The decision rests on a legal standard known as the “famous marks doctrine,” which states that a trademark is protected in a given nation if it is well-known, even though the mark is neither used nor registered there. The court found that despite the fact Cubatobacco didn’t file for a trademark on the Cohiba name, under the famous names doctrine it still retains the name’s rights.

The case is complicated by the fact that the Cuban trade embargo means that Cubatobacco can’t sell Cohibas in the U.S. Notwithstanding that well-known fact, the judge held that consumers were likely to be confused between Dominican-made and Cuban Cohiba cigars.

Judge Notes Cubatobacco’s ‘Cozy’ Relationship with Cigar Aficionado

The 2004 decision also provides a unique look into the premium cigar business. The first 70 pages of the decision read like a history of the Cohiba name and of cigar marketing practices, including fascinating details of the role played by Cigar Aficionado in establishing the Cuban Cohiba’s mystique.

At one point, in a discussion over how well-known the Cuban Cohiba was in the early nineties, the judge observes a “cozy relationship between…Cubatabaco’s marketing department and the editorial staff of Cigar Aficionado” that resulted in multiple “puff pieces,” or positive publicity for Cohiba.

The Future of General Cigar’s Cohiba Line is Uncertain

If the current ruling stands, the decision will mark the end of General Cigar’s “Red Dot” Cohiba lines. As part of the 2004 ruling, the judge ruled that General must turn over all its cigars and other materials that contain the Cohiba name. However, that order seems to be pending any appeal by General Cigar.

In a statement provided to StogieGuys.com, General Cigar’s Dan Carr, the senior vice president of sales and marketing, said “we strongly disagree with the Judge’s ruling and will continue to vigorously defend our position, up to and including (if necessary) taking an appeal of his ruling.”

We asked General Cigar what the ruling means for the immediate future of the Dominican Cohiba line, and if the company would continue to market and produce the cigar. We are told, however, that aside from the above statement, “given that this is pending litigation, we cannot comment further.”

Patrick S

photo credit: Wikipedia

Drew Estate

4 Responses to “Stogie News: Cuba Wins Latest Battle Over Cohiba Name”

  1. Benjy Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 6:10 am #

    Thanks for the documents Patrick, they are indeed a very compelling read. Personally, I think the issue will not be settled until the trade embargo is lifted as it will clear plenty of the grey issues at hand. General Cigars must concentrate on making better cigars than their competitors like the Fuentes and the Padrons instead of spending so much time, effort and money on protecting on what probably the rest of the world knows as a Cuban brand. I understand the power of good branding as well as anyone, but General must understand the reality of the situation at hand. Given the choice between a Red Dot and a Siglo vitola, how many aficionados will choose the Dominican variant?

  2. Padronnie Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 8:44 am #

    Those commies sure seem intent on using our court system and using our property rights when it comes to trademarks. Hypocrisy anyone?

    I wonder, would they would let the non-Cuban owners of Partagas challenge Cubatobacco's ownership of the name in Cuban courts? After all, the communists stole all the brand names when they nationalized the cigar industry.

  3. Guy Buscéma Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 3:04 pm #

    Hello everyone,

    I could try to understand all of this IF General

    Cigars WAS making a good cigar with It's Red Dot

    and use of the name COHIBA. But I said it once and I'll say it again, They are the worst cigars on the market and the worst that can happen to a true cigar lover. It's not even worth 5 cents let alone

    the price they are selling at. For cigar lovers sake, Take it off the market and leave the name where it belongs,

    ON A REAL CIGAR. The real one.

    I have been smoking cigars for 38 years.

    Thank you for reading me out ,but, This is ONLY my honest opinion and I stand by it.

    Guy Buscéma

    Calvisson, France

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Cohiba Siglo I « Matt’s Cigar Journal - Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    […] for a while and as far as I know is still ongoing.  I did see an interesting post about it on The Stogie Guys’ website that linked to an actual court opinion that had ruled in favor of Cubatobacco.  General […]