The U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene in a clash over the rights to sell Havana Club rum in the American market, dealing a setback to Pernod Ricard SA (RI), France’s biggest liquor maker.
The justices today left intact a U.S. government agency’s rejection of a bid by Cuba’s state-owned Cubaexport to renew its U.S. trademark on the Havana Club name. Pernod sells Havana Club throughout the world, except in the U.S., under a 1993 agreement with Cubaexport.
The case is part of a multipronged legal battle between Pernod and Bacardi Ltd. over U.S. rights to the Havana Club name. The two companies have been fighting since 1994, when Bacardi applied for a U.S. trademark.
Paris-based Pernod is trying to position itself to sell rum in the U.S. under the historic Havana Club name should the American embargo on Cuban goods be lifted. Bacardi has been selling its Havana Club rum in Florida since 2006.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control refused to renew Cubaexport’s trademark, relying on a 1998 law making marks confiscated by the Cuban government unenforceable. A federal appeals court in Washington upheld the decision. The law has been applied only to the Havana Club mark.
A different federal appeals court ruled against Pernod on a separate issue in August. It said consumers wouldn’t be confused into thinking Bacardi’s Havana Club rum was made in Cuba because the label says it is made in Puerto Rico. Bacardi is based in Hamilton, Bermuda.
The Supreme Court case is Empresa Cubana v. Department of the Treasury, 11-945.
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