U.S. Companies Filing for Cuban Trademarks, Is Change in the Air?

With U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House a change in U.S. – Cuba relations may be on the horizon. According to a recent Reuters story, U.S. companies have an estimated 5,000 products trademarked in Cuba, “waiting for the day they might finally land on the island separated from the United States by the Florida Straits and a vast ideological gulf.” Indeed, as recently as December 2008, the Cuban Office of Intellectual Property registered trademarks for new products for Coca-Cola, Google, and Ford Motor Co.

Hasn’t the United States imposed a commercial, economic, and financial embargo against Cuba since the early 1960s? Yes, but under the Clinton administration an exception was enacted exclusively for the protection of trademarks, patents, commercial names, copyrights belonging to U.S. individuals or corporations. Thus, U.S. trademarks and other IP is can be protected under Cuban law. Likewise, U.S. government will protect intellectual property assets belonging to the Cuban government.

While trademark applications filed in Cuba by U.S. companies fell by 36 percent during the George W. Bush administration, under Mr. Obama’s administration U.S. companies are sensing new market opportunities. Mr. Obama is the first U.S. president in half a century who has evidenced a willingness to talk with Cuba’s leaders, and he has promised to ease the trade embargo.

Right now, U.S. trade groups are trying to avoid a repeat of events that occurred in South Africa, following the end of apartheid. There U.S. companies found their trademarks had been registered by someone else. Fortunately, Cuban authorities have honored trademarks and awarded rights to legitimate owners.

For those U.S. companies believing “change” may involve a thawing of economic relations between the governments of Cuba and the U.S., then further discussions with your trademark counsel is warranted.

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