|US companies get Cuba trademarks, wait for change|
|Published on Wednesday, February 25, 2009||Email To Friend Print Version|
By Esteban Israel
HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters): The opening of a McDonald's in Communist Cuba seems unlikely any time soon, even with US President Barack Obama in the White House and the prospect of better US-Cuba relations on the horizon.
But the fast food giant is one of many US companies that have an estimated 5,000 products trademarked in Cuba, waiting for the day they might finally land on the island separated from the United States by the Florida Straits and a vast ideological gulf.
As recently as December the Cuban Office of Intellectual Property registered trademarks for new products for Coca-Cola, Google and Ford Motor Co.
Many US trademarks date back to before the January 1, 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power and transformed the island from a capitalist US ally into a communist foe.
Their names -- among them Aunt Jemima, Timex, Quaker Oats, M&M's, Polaroid, Kodak, General Motors, Texaco -- invoke a time when Cuba was a consumer society with an affinity for US goods, most of them unavailable since the US imposed a trade embargo against the island in 1962.
The biggest wave of registrations came in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union, which subsidized Cuba's economy to the tune of $4 billion a year, collapsed and Castro's communist system seemed in trouble.
Cuban communism survived and since then the registration of US trademarks has ebbed and flowed with the state of US-Cuba relations, rising when they improved and falling when they worsened.
The number of applications fell by 36 percent during the George W. Bush administration. His hard-line policies toward Cuba increased tensions between the two countries.
The advent of Obama is expected to bring a fresh look at Cuba from US companies interested in opening new markets.
He is the first US president in half a century who has said he is willing to talk with Cuba's leaders, and he has promised to ease the trade embargo.
There has been a "marked increase in interest among major US companies in the trade and investment climate in Cuba since the election of President Obama," said Jake Colvin, Vice President for Global Trade Issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, which promotes rule-based trade.
If history is a guide, that interest will translate into another wave of new US registrations in Cuba, but not until the global financial crisis has passed, industrial property experts in both countries said.
To a certain extent, US companies which seek a Cuban trademark are betting on the future. Even with Obama in office, they do not expect the Cuban market, that has been mostly off-limits for 47 years, to open up overnight.
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