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Written by Gary J. Arzt

Tuesday, 08 July 2008

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Tags:
gurkhagurkha vs fuente lawsuit
tobacco legislation

I always saw the similarity between the cigar, wine and coffee industries - fierce competitors, yet able to sit down and 'break bread' with each other and socialize. It seems, however; that when the market heats up; much of the cordiality evaporates, and as Jose Blanco, Vice President of La Aurora, said, "It gets very aggressive."

I should point out, that was an observation, not an indictment of anyone or any company.

In the boom of the '90s, it was the poaching of rollers.

In the past several months, Pepin Garcia parted company with Ernesto Padilla with a simple, amicable, straightforward Press Release. Padilla, followed suit by enrolling on the Cigar Family (Fuente-Newman) and posting a screed that, not so subtly, suggested he had quality problems with the product being produced by Pepin.

Sam Dribben, of The Black Cat Cigar Company, was informed that Pepin could no longer produce his "Rey Miguel." A simple business decision, based on the fact that Pepin's business model had changed drastically since those early days, when Dribben asked him to make the house cigar. Dribben wrote some very rough copy and slashed the prices of all the cigars in his catalogue made by " ... my friend ..." Pepin Garcia!

Then there was the scathing remarks made in copy in the Holt's catalogue about Ernie Padilla. These "slipped by" Sathye Levin, who is in charge of the catalogue. What a field day the forums had with that. And sadly, in the forums, it was suggested that Holt's was carrying water for either the Fuentes or Pepin Garcia, or both. That is certainly a little too Machiavellian.

Aside from the ongoing lawsuit claiming trademark infringement, by Habanos SA against Jose Montagne's Guantanamera Cigars Co. Many, in the industry and outside it, we smokers, are focused on the lawsuit between Fuente and Beach Cigar Group over the trade dress, a tin that both are using and logos.

Cigar-Review had a brief conversation with Kaizad Hansotia, the owner of Beach (Gurkha cigars) as well as Carlitos Fuente. Each had their point of view.

The hassle is over a tin that each is using, basic black, gold trim and their respective logos.

Carlitos suggested to Cigar-Review that he would like us to see certain material involving the suit. On his instructions, a call was made to Karl Herzog, in Tampa. He had, apparently, heard from Carlitos, and indicated he would get back to me. That was Thursday, and, of course, the holiday ensued. No call from him on Monday. A call to him by me on Tuesday elicited the information that a woman, apparently from the Intellectual Property attorneys representing Fuente, would call us. 8:45 PM Tuesday; no call. So, we have to go with what we know.

Do the crossed swords of the Gurkha logo look like the X in the Opus X logo ... a tough case to make? The crossed swords have been the symbol of the Gurkha Regiment since the late 1800s. It is not a logo, not a trade mark, so Beach was free to use it. And, did register it in 1990 when the cigar was created. Opus was introduced in 1996.

On the other hand, as I understand from Fuente, without further information, as noted above, Fuente actually paid for the molds or forms for the tins. Perhaps, they should have acquired exclusive rights to the use of the tins from the company that has them made in China.

The flack is still flying. Among the back and forth, we have learned the following:

• Fuente sued for trademark infringement
• Fuente tried to trademark their tin and the claim was rejected by the Patent and Trademark Office of the Commerce Department.

Recent information would indicate that Fuente lost their suit and settled with Beach and Hansotia. The Court information is not yet available.

Beach Cigar Groups' suit for tortuous interference is yet to be adjudicated.

If I can be permitted our two cents; law suits enrich lawyers that win, lose or draw, get paid. Can't we all be friends, sit down and work these things out, and focus on making the great cigars that both Gurkha and Opus X make.

Efforts to get comments from other industry figures, while not futile, were not for attribution. I will not write anything that is without attribution, nor will Cigar Review publish it.

I intend to follow this story closely, and keep our readers informed.

- Gary J. Arzt for Cigar Review




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