Los Angeles, January 6, 2011 – No doubt about it, this was a lawsuit waiting to happen.
The New York-based attorneys for Habanos, S.A. filed suit in U.S. District Court against Ismail Houmani and his La Casa De La Habana series of four shops in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Plymouth, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio. He's been in business for ten years, but Habanos is now claiming that his store name is confusing similar to the 150-outlet La Casa del Habano worldwide chain of shops which sell Cuban cigars and accessories.
Habanos has a longstanding policy to sue anyone and everyone whose brand or trade names might have any impact on their own trademarks; as David Goldstein, one of the attorneys representing Habanos noted in comments to the Associated Press, the Cubans would otherwise own trademarks that were nothing more than a "worthless piece of paper." Even with the U.S. trade embargo, the Cuban government has been allowed access to U.S. courts to protect its registered patents and trademarks, and Cuban courts are open to U.S. companies for the same purpose.
The fact that this suit was filed, however, is only the beginning of the story. While Habanos has had success in some cases, it has lost others, notably the long struggle with General Cigar (now a unit of the STG joint venture between Scandinavian Tobacco and Swedish Match) over the U.S. rights to the Cohiba trademark. The first La Casa del Habano was opened in Mexico in 1990, but Houmani has been doing business in the Detroit area for a decade without incident and since there are no La Casa del Habano stores in the U.S. due to the embargo, it's hard to imagine that there is much damage or confusion.
Nevertheless, the suit is on.
~ Rich Perelman