The policy of rapprochement with Cuba promoted by the Obama administration has sparked a frenzy of U.S. companies rushing to register their brands on the island.
The Cuban Office of Industrial Property, or OCPI, the government agency that examines and awards trademark and trade name registrations on the island, has received more than 1,000 applications so far this year to register trademarks and distinctive signs belonging to U.S. companies.
That is more than double the number of applications received in 2015 and far exceeds the number before Havana and Washington announced a thaw in relations on Dec. 17, 2014. Only 78 U.S. brands were registered on the island that year, according to a report by Reuters.
Although many American companies have registered their trademarks in Cuba since the 1960s, covered by an exception to the U.S. embargo, experts say that recent regulatory changes to expand engagement with Cuba have sparked interest in the business opportunities.
The six rounds of regulatory changes since December 17, 2014, have been a catalyst for an increase in registration in Cuba of intellectual property owned by U.S. companies, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
During 2015, well-known brands such as Netflix, Hersheys and Twitter filed to register their trademarks on the island. General Motors registered many of its vehicles, including Camaro, Tahoe, Cruze and Buick. Chrysler did the same with its Compass, Charger and Challenger brands. And various restaurant chains such as Outback Steakhouse, Chick-fil-A, Bonefish Grill and IHOP also filed.
Among the names listed in OCPIs records for 2016 are Disney, Taco Bell, Uber, Starbucks, Chevron, Dominos, Bank of America, Apple and Microsoft. MGM Resorts International, the Las Vegas casino empire, filed to register its brand in Cuba in January 2016. Go Pro, Fossil and Abbott, filed in August. Instagram and Persicope filed in June.
Some media brands, including MTV, Showtime, Dish Network, Comcast, Bloomberg, CBS and Univision, have also filed for registration on the island where the government-owned TV often plays American movies and programs without paying for royalties.
In addition to the trademarks registered by OCPI, the Spanish acronym for Oficina Cubana de la Propiedad Industrial, others are registered under the Madrid Protocol, an international treaty of which Cuba is a signatory. To date, Cuba has more than 6,000 brands of U.S. companies in its registry, according to official records from the Cuban Foreign Ministry.
The increase in the number of U.S. trademark registrations in Cuba is a direct consequence of President Barack Obamas orders to loosen regulations, according to economist Emilio Morales, president of the Miami-based The Havana Consulting Group.
These are brands that have not been commercialized in Cuba and now they see an opportunity, Morales said. Prior to the reestablishment of U.S.-Cuba relations, investors interest in Cuba was very poor.