POLITICS

Supreme Court Hands Victory To Cuban Cigar Company

02/23/2015 10:02 am ET | Updated Apr 25, 2015

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON, Feb 23 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court handed a victory to a state-owned Cuban cigar company on Monday by declining to intervene in its long-running battle with a U.S.-based rival over the Cohiba trademark that both use for their products.

By refusing to hear an appeal filed by Delaware-based General Cigar Co Inc, the high court left intact a ruling in favor of the Cuban company, Cubatabaco.

Due to the long-running U.S. trade embargo with Cuba, the Cuban company cannot sell its Cohiba cigars in the United States, but it does sell them in Cuba and elsewhere. General Cigar sells Dominican Republic-produced Cohiba cigars in the United States.

General Cigar is owned by Scandinavian Tobacco Group A/S, which is partly owned by Swedish Match AB..

The legal dispute is over whether the Cuban company has the right to challenge General Cigar's trademarks in the United States despite the embargo.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit last June ruled in favor of Cubatabaco. After the Supreme Court's denial, the case will now move forward at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

The case reached the high court just after President Barack Obama announced in December that he planned to loosen some of the U.S.-Cuban restrictions, although the broad trade embargo will remain intact.

Under an easing of travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba under Obama's changes, American visitors will be able to buy up to $100 worth of cigars, the island's most famous product, bring them home and smoke them.

In January, the Obama administration said it would allow U.S. exports of telecommunications, agricultural and construction equipment, permit expanded travel by Americans to the island and open banking relations.

The case is General Cigar Co v. Empresa Cubana Del Tabaco, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 14-512. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

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