A bipartisan congressional delegation from Florida is questioning the State Department over why the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) agreed to give Cubaexport, which is owned by the Cuban government, a license for the Havana Club rum trademark.
The delegation, made up of over 20 House representatives led by Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, issued a letter asking the State Department to review the decision it made in February last year granting Cubaexport a license to register the brand in the U.S.
In the letter, Ros-Lehtinen and Wasserman Schultz specifically ask OFAC why it didn’t investigate whether the trademark is tied to confiscated property and if the party seeking to register the trademark has been granted permission to do so by the trademark’s original owners.
The congresswomen said they are worried about the precedent the decision set because it could negatively affect other trademark cases. They rejected the argument the State Department made last year that granting the license was consistent with the new U.S.-Cuba relations forged by the Obama administration.
“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 echoed Ros-Lehtinen’s sentiments, saying, “As members of Congress, we have a responsibility to uphold the values enshrined in our Constitution, including the protection against government confiscation of property without just compensation.”
“It is with these values in mind that we strongly urge OFAC to revoke the license it issued to the Cuban government entity Cubaexport. By allowing the Cuban regime to register the Havana Club trademark, OFAC is out of step with longstanding United States policy, and has set a terrible precedent for American intellectual property rights holders,” she said.
International spirits company Bacardí was pleased with the delegation’s move. Amy Federman, a spokesperson for the company, told news sources that Bacardí 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,” Federman added.
Bacardí has been embroiled in a legal battle over the control for the trademark for years. The trademark originally belonged to the Arechabala company, which used to produce Havana Club rum until its property was confiscated by the Castro regime.
Bacardí claims to have bought the rights to the trademark from the Arechabala company 20 years ago, and both companies assert that they have never authorized Cubaexport to use it. Bacardí immediately filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court after OFAC granted Cubaexport a license to use the trademark, but the case has reportedly not yet moved in court.