President Barack Obama has called on the U.S. Congress to lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba and normalize trade relations. French President François Hollande recently urged the same of the U.S., saying there is growing interest in doing business with Cuba. When the embargo is lifted, U.S. companies should be prepared to enter the Cuban marketplace. Being prepared means seeking trademark registration.

Cuba is a first-to-file country for trademark protection; in other words, a registration is awarded to the first applicant, even if that applicant has no legitimate claim to the trademark. Currently, an exception to the embargo permits U.S. companies to obtain trademark registrations — as well as submit patent applications — in Cuba. Proactively seeking a trademark registration in Cuba may avoid problems when the embargo is lifted.

An applicant can apply for a Cuban trademark registration using the international Madrid Protocol mechanism if it has an existing U.S. registration. A Cuban trademark application is screened against existing registrations by the Oficina Cubana de la Propiedad Industrial (OCPI). If a registration exists for the mark of the application, the OCPI will reject the application.

Generally, if your brand is well-known in the U.S., it is more likely that a trademark squatter might register your mark in Cuba to demand payment from you in exchange for the trademark. It is more expensive for trademark owners to obtain rights from others rather than to seek early trademark registration in first-to-file countries.

Though it may take time to reach normalized relations with Cuba, companies should consider Cuban trademark registration now so they are better prepared to enter the Cuban market.