Although “Bacardi is such a huge and powerful company,” says Thomas Pirko, a liquor consultant at New York�based Bevmark LLC, “you pose a threat by having a very special moniker.” He explains that the rum market in the mid-1990s was in the doldrums, outshined by vodka and tequila. Rum was a middling spirit to be thrown into a blender with cheap daiquiri mix; not, like a single malt scotch, to be savored by the discretionary-income class. But a Cuban rum, says Pirko, could fill a profitable upscale niche. And, he adds, “even though Puerto Rico [which Bacardi has on its label] might be nice, Cuba is a lot more romantic. . . . Cuba is hot.” It conjures Ernest Hemingway sipping on “mojitos” and Havana’s fabled history cultivated in movies like The Godfather as the original Las Vegas. Bacardi apparently agreed: In 1994 it applied at the trademark office for six trademarks that included the name “Havana” all of which were rejected because Bacardi can’t make rum in Cuba.

That didn’t deter Bacardi, though, which then launched an offensive to gain control of the Havana Club name itself. In October 1994 the company filed a trademark office application for the Havana Club registration, which at first was rejected but now is on hold awaiting the resolution of the court case. The following year, it initiated cancellation proceedings at the trademark office also pending against the Pernod joint venture’s registration.