Understanding Intellectual Property in Cuba

Havana, Cuba
Havana, Cuba

Intellectual property (IP) may not be the first thing one thinks of when one thinks of Cuba, so it may come as a surprise that Cuba has a relatively robust set of intellectual property regulations. Cuba’s long history of complying with IP treaties has resulted in a sophisticated legal approach to the protection of IP on the island. Cubans themselves have a healthy regard for IP. Many of the sectors that are strong in Cuba benefit from IP protection such as music, art, film, biomedical research, and the rum and cigar industries.   

Cuba’s IP laws largely track U.S. law, but they do diverge in various instances. Although Cuba is a member of almost all of the intellectual property treaties that the U.S. is a member of, these treaties do not prescribe the manner in which member states must meet treaty obligations. 

Among IP protections, trademark law is a particularly interesting subject to consider in Cuba. At its essence, trademark law facilitates merchants’ ability to distinguish their goods from others’. All of trademark law is guided by the context of the market and of consumers’ understanding of how to conduct themselves in the market. U.S. trademark law students easily rely on their developed experience as a consumer to make sense of trademark doctrines, which then seem intuitive and reasonable. But in Cuba, where markets, consumer choices, and advertising are all hardly existing, the basic premises of trademark law can seem anomalous. 

Nevertheless, there is a longstanding tradition of trademark regulation in Cuba. Cuban trademark law more closely resembles European trademark law than U.S. law and some differences are attributable to the differences between the civil law and common law systems. The differences and peculiarities between U.S. and Cuban trademark law will be a topic that many will want to understand when the U.S. embargo against Cuba ends and U.S. companies seek to do business in Cuba.

An interest in understanding the differences between the U.S.’ and the Cuban trademark regimes has prompted a series of advanced courses on U.S. trademark law taught by AUWCL Professor Christine Farley in Havana since 2016. She has taught groups of attorneys at the Cuban Office for Intellectual Property ("OCPI"), as well as IP attorneys at other ministries and enterprises. The courses have been coordinated by the Center for Inter-American Legal Education and the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The program is supported by a Ford Foundation grant to train Cuban lawyers in U.S. commercial law topics in anticipation of the eventual end of the U.S. embargo. In addition to Professor Farley’s courses, professors from Berkeley, Brooklyn College of Law, Columbia, Cornell, Emory, NYU, and the University of Washington have taught courses on commercial law, financial institutions, business organizations, hospitality law, and trade law.