After more than 25 years of court battles, General Cigar Co.’s trademark for Cohiba cigars was canceled by the United States Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB).
Scandinavian Tobacco Group, General’s parent company, and Empresa Cubana del Tabaco (Cubatabaco) have fought over the U.S. rights to the Cohiba trademark since 1997. In a ruling earlier this month, the TTAB sided in favor of the Cuban cigar conglomerate in its claim on the name, saying that General Cigar Co.’s registrations on the Cohiba trademark are to be canceled due to a violation of an international agreement that dates back to 1929.
In the U.S., the Cohiba brand is made by General Cigar Co. and is known for a Cohiba logo with a red dot that fills the O in the word. In the rest of the world, the Cohibas found on store shelves come from Cuba and are known for a gold and black color scheme as well as the profile image of a Taino Indian, writes Patrick Lagreid from Halfwheel.
While the TTAB’s ruling indicated that General’s registrations on the Cohiba marks are to be canceled “in due course,” it does not mean that the General-made Cohibas have to immediately be pulled from store shelves. First, the TTAB did not award the Cohiba mark to Cubatabaco; second, General Cigar Co. has vowed to appeal, saying that it will continue to manufacture and sell Cohiba cigars during that process.
Cohiba is a particularly unique case due to both its prominence on the global stage and its creation by the state-run tobacco company after the Cuban Revolution, whereas other brands with Cuban roots that General Cigar Co. owns, such as Partagas, Hoyo de Monterrey and La Gloria Cubana, were assumed by the Cuban government in 1959.
Similarly, General’s largest competitor in the cigar industry, Altadis USA, owns several brands with pre-Revolution roots, including Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta and H. Upmann. Prior to Imperial Brands selling its premium cigar business in April 2020, Altadis USA was owned by Imperial, which also owned a 50 percent stake in Habanos S.A., a joint venture with the Cuban tobacco monopoly for the sales and marketing of Cuban cigars. Imperial also owned stakes in distributors of Habanos S.A. products around the world and stakes in companies that make and distribute Cuban machine-made cigars.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in 2015 ruled in favor of Cubatabaco. After the Supreme Court’s denial to hear the case, it went to the TTAB.