Fake Cigars Get Rolled in Cuba Case
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
March 30, 2004 -- Capitalism has its advantages, comrade.
A federal judge in Manhattan yesterday said American trademark law protects Cuba's premium Cohiba brand of cigars and ordered a New York company to quit selling stogies under that name.
Cohibas were originally created in Cuba as the personal cigars of Fidel Castro and were later given as gifts to visiting heads of state and other dignitaries.
In 1982, Cuba began selling them internationally - but not in the United States, which has a trade embargo banning all goods from the communist island.
A decade later, the magazine Cigar Aficionado, in its premier issue, anointed Cohibas as one of the world's great cigars - and that's when a New York company called General Cigar started marketing a high-end stogie under the Cohiba label.
Made in the Dominican Republic, General Cigar's version of the Cohiba sells for between $20, for a single 81/2-inch-long cigar, to $7.35, for a 4-inch stogie.
Cubatabaco, the state-owned Cuban business that makes Cohiba, filed suit in 1997 to stop General from selling the cigars, and federal Judge Robert Sweet yesterday ruled that even though Cuban Cohibas aren't sold in the United States, the brand is famous enough that it deserves protection.