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Bacardi wins appeal reviving US Trademark Office fight over 'Havana Club' rum

Post Time:2024-06-14 Source:Reuters Author:Blake Brittain Views:

June 13 (Reuters) - Bacardi [RIC:RIC:BACLTD.UL] convinced a U.S. appeals court on Thursday to revive the liquor giant's lawsuit against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in its long-running dispute with the Cuban government over "Havana Club" rum.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, determined that Bacardi can challenge in federal court the USPTO's decision to renew Cuba's "Havana Club" trademark 10 years after Bacardi said it should have expired.

A spokesperson for the USPTO declined to comment. A Bacardi spokesperson said that the company was pleased with the decision.

Cuba-owned Cubaexport and French spirits company Pernod Ricard (PERP.PA) sell Havana Club rum outside of the United States. Cubaexport first registered the Havana Club trademark in the U.S. in 1976.

Bacardi, which was exiled from Cuba after the Cuban Revolution, says the Cuban government unlawfully seized the Havana Club name and assets from Jose Arechabala SA in 1960. Bacardi bought Jose Arechabala's brand and began selling Havana Club rum in the United States in 1995.

Bacardi argued in a 2021 lawsuit in Virginia that Cubaexport's trademark should have expired in 2006 after it failed to get a license to pay its renewal fee from the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Bacardi's lawsuit challenged the USPTO's 2016 decision to renew Cubaexport's trademark after OFAC changed course and issued the license. U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady dismissed the case in 2022, finding that Bacardi could only challenge the mark through trademark office procedures.

But U.S. Circuit Judge Allison Rushing wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel on Thursday that Bacardi's court challenge can continue.

Rushing said that federal law does not disallow lawsuits over the USPTO's trademark-renewal decisions even though it may preclude court complaints over the office's registration decisions.

Bacardi has filed a separate lawsuit over the USPTO's rejection of its request to cancel Cubaexport's trademark, which is still pending.

The case is Bacardi & Co v. U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 22-1659.