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Board accepts Bush's intervention

The governor's letter in a controversial trademark case is appropriate, the appeals panel says.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2003

WASHINGTON -- A federal board reviewing a controversial trademark case has rejected a complaint alleging that intervention by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on behalf of Bacardi USA Inc. amounted to an improper one-sided communication in a semijudicial proceeding.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office dismissed charges brought by a joint Cuban-French venture. The complaint alleged that Bush's letter last June to James Rogan, director of the patent office, was an ex parte communication "relevant to the merits" of the dispute over control of the trademark for Havana Club, a brand of rum.

Bush asked in the letter that the Patent and Trademark Office "take quick, decisive action on a pending application to expunge the registration of the trademark Havana Club." The governor said the "outdated registration . . . should be canceled immediately."

In its ruling, the trademark appeal board wrote: "We view the letter as a complaint on behalf of a Florida-based business about delays in the cancellation process with a request for status information, rather than as an ex parte communication on the merits."

The finding was criticized by Charles Sims, a lawyer for Havana Club Holdings, the French-Cuban venture that controls the Havana Club trademark. "If the TTAB had called for a review as we requested, we know more instances of improper ex parte communications would have been uncovered. Documents obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in Florida make that plain."

During his re-election campaign last summer, Bush denied reports that he helped the liquor manufacturer in the dispute only after the company gave $50,000 to the state Republican Party. Bush said he wrote on behalf of the Miami-based company because it created substantial economic activity in the state and had a work force of more than 300 Floridians.

"He was working on behalf of a Florida constituent," said Liz Hirst, the governor's spokeswoman.

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