Pernod Ricard Plans New Cuban Rum

Liquor Giant Eyes Havanista for the States If Cuban Embargo Is Lifted

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Liquor giant Pernod Ricard today said it will launch a Cuban-made rum called Havanista in the States -- if the U.S. government ever lifts its embargo.

What sounds like some serious advance planning is actually Plan B in a long-running trademark battle over the company's Cuban-made Havana Club brand, which is sold in more than 120 markets. Even though the rum is not allowed into the U.S., Pernod has sought to renew the trademark rights here but has run into regulatory hurdles. A major blow came today when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a lower-court opinion denying the renewal.

Competitor Bacardi also sells a brand called Havana Club in Florida, but it is made in Puerto Rico. Bacardi bought the U.S. trademark rights to the name in 1997 from Jose Arechabala International, the creator of the brand, according to Bacardi.

Pernod Ricard's Havana Club is the product of a joint venture between Pernod and Cuba Ron, a Cuban state-owned company. The U.S. trademark issue involves a law called Section 211, which bars the registration or renewal of trademarks confiscated by the Cuban government.

According to Bacardi, the Arechabala family created the Havana Club recipe in Cuba in 1935, but the trademark was confiscated by the Cuban government in 1960.

Thwarted by the courts, Pernod has turned to Havanista, which would be produced and bottled in Cuba and aimed specifically at the U.S. The brand "will be a celebration of Cuban taste and culture in a genuine Cuban rum," the company said in a statement. "It will benefit from the same high-level production processes and quality requirements of the Havana Club range." Of course, that assumes the U.S. government one day lifts the Cuban embargo, which turned 50 this year.

In a separate case, Pernod has accused Bacardi of misleading consumers into thinking that Bacardi's Havana Club was made in Havana, as trade publication Wine and Spirits Daily noted today. But "in August 2011, the Third Circuit appeals court agreed with a lower-court ruling that said Bacardi is not in violation of false advertising because the label says it was made in Puerto Rico," the trade pub reported.

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