Cohiba is the pre-eminent Cuban cigar brand, but not all Cohibas are really Cuban cigars. An American and Scandinavian company, General Cigar Co. Inc., also manufactures seven types of cigars under the famous brand name.
But General Cigar’s so-called “red dot” Cohibas are not Cuban cigars, because they are not made with Cuban tobacco.
Fortunately, recognizing the difference between a real Cuban Cohiba and those made with tobacco from all around the world is easy.
General Cigar’s Cohiba is known as the “Cohiba Red Dot” for the red that colors in the O on the name in the logo, which appears on boxes and cigar bands. The band and cigar boxes also say “Republica Dominicana,” which could easily be overlooked if buying online.
As General Cigar says in its online description (left), its Cohiba is made with a blend of tobacco from the Dominican Republic featuring leaf grown from “three varieties of Cuban seed tobaccos” plus a Cameroon (Central African) wrapper and a Jember (Indonesian) binder.
General also sells cigars under the Hoya de Monterrey, Partagas, Punch and Sancho Panza brands, which are also brand names used by Habanos S.A.
As with the red-dot Cohiba, General’s other cigars sold under Cuban brand names do not contain Cuban tobacco.
COHIBAS ONGOING TRADEMARK DISPUTE
What’s much more complicated than separating a Cuban Cohiba from a Dominican Cohiba Red Dot is the legal dispute behind the co-opted brand name.
For nearly 20 years, Cubatabaco, the Cuban company that is half-owner of Habanos S.A., the Cuban cigar maker and distributor, has fought General Cigar’s use of the Cohiba name.
Habanos S.A. calls Cohiba its flagship brand, saying it was created in 1966 for President Fidel Castro himself. This year, the company celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Cohiba brand at its annual Festival del Habano.
“Cohiba” is an ancient Taino Indian word for the bunches of tobacco leaves that Columbus first saw being smoked by the original inhabitants of Cuba – the earliest known form of a cigar, Habanos S.A. says.
At first, Cohibas manufactured in the 20th century were only available outside Cuba when heads of state and visiting diplomats received them as gifts.
Cuba began to sell Cohibas on the world market (outside of the U.S.) in 1982.
Because of the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba, the Habanos Cohiba has never been legally sold in the United States.
General Cigar launched its Cohiba brand in 1997, and Cubatabaco promptly sued.
The legal dispute boils down to whether the Cuban company has the right to challenge General Cigar’s trademarks in the United States despite the embargo. General Cigar has argued that, because of the embargo, Cubatabaco has no legal standing in the U.S.
The suit has bounced around the courts and the U.S. Patents and Trade Office for nearly a decade, with each side looking like the winner at various points in time. This Trademark and Copyright Law blog explains the legal arguments, counterarguments and decisions well.
In February 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case, which leaves Cubatabaco with the upper hand.
The ruling that the Court refused to review held that Cubatabaco had a right to seek relief.
Further, if Cubatabaco obtains a successful ruling from the USPTO allowing it to register its Cohiba trademarks, the company could make General Cigar give up the name, the ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said (another history of the legal case, if you’re so inclined).
It would follow that Cubatabaco could then move to protect its other brand names.
The USPTO has yet to issue its ruling.