Cigar Monopoly Put Out
Updated: 12:11, Thursday March 08, 2007
The monopoly on the sales of exclusive hand-rolled Cuban cigars has gone up in smoke.
Three appeal judges have ruled that it is legal for a company to import the cigars direct from Cuba into the UK and Europe.
Appeal judge Lord Justice Jacob overturned a High Court ruling backing the right of the monopoly supplier to prevent its cigars being imported into Europe without consent.
The judge was critical of the use of trade mark laws to restrict imports in Europe.
"I suppose nearly all members of the public would think that you cannot infringe a trade mark if you are just selling the genuine goods of the proprietor to which he has applied his trade mark," he said.
The EC had issued a directive describing a trade mark as a guarantee of the origin of the product, he said.
"So the public would be surprised to know (and perhaps somewhat resentful of the fact) that the law is such .... that traders cannot buy them and import them for sale here, unless the trade mark owner has consented.
The win by Mastercigars Direct Ltd could result in the price of the cigars being cut by more than half in the UK.
The ruling comes as the latest stage in a long-running battle between Mastercigars and Corporacion Habanos.
The latter is a Cuban joint venture company half owned by European interests and half by a subsidiary of Tabacuba, the Cuban state tobacco company.
Until today, Hunters and Frankau had exclusive rights under a 1990 agreement with Tabacuba to distribute the specialist cigars - in the UK - Corporacion is now appealing to the highest court in the land, the House of Lords.