La Isla Bonita: Cuban Market Opportunities are Opening to Those In The Know
Cuban Market Opportunities
Cuba is everywhere in the news recently, but few people seem to know how to capitalize on the thawing relations between the island and the United States. Importantly, even fewer U.S. attorneys have any experience with the Cuban government or people, so much of the legal writing on Cuba is off-the-mark. Having lived in Havana for 2 ½ years, and having spent countless hours with government officials and Cuban citizens, I have a unique perspective on the island regarding the Cuban market growing business opportunities there.
Cubans are fond of referring to sociolismo, the notion that the way things get done is by having the right socios (friends). At first glance, this may seem to be a reference to the black market or to corruption, but instead it points to the premium Cubans place on personal relationships and trust. No business can expect to make much headway without taking the time to build these relationships through face-to-face meetings, numerous cups of café, and genuine displays of respect for the Cuban character. The greatest mistake one can make is to behave as if the Cuban market has a need that only your business can fill, and to ignore the importance of developing mutual goodwill and concern for a longer-term relationship.
Orgullo y el espejo
The Cuban people have survived difficult decades and have developed their own unique economic methods and idiosyncracies. Being aware of how they bargain, how they analyze value, even the unique way they wait in line for the bus or train, provides U.S. businesses with the tools to craft deals that will be mutually beneficial. For example, few Americans understand that the Cuban system of la charada (derived from the banned lottery system) replaces numbers with words, so they may not follow when a discussion refers to una monja (nun) instead of simply saying the number 5.
Cubans are proud of the things that make them unique, whether it is comparing their capitolio to our Capitol (which, they will remind you, is shorter) or bragging about how their Coppelia ice cream stand serves 1,000 people at once. Failing to appreciate these achievements will alienate potential economic partners at all levels, from the burgeoning paladares (private house restaurants) to the highest government officials.
For many businesses, addressing the opening Cuban market is a matter for today, not years down the road. Opportunities range across the board, but here are some things to think about now:
Companies seeking trademark protection may do so by way of the Madrid Protocol, which is relatively simple and inexpensive. However, one should keep in mind that “trademark squatters” are already positioning themselves on the island. Given the imminent wave of applications expected as the market opens to U.S. investment, companies are advised to file early. Additionally, knowledge of the Cuba government is a critical factor to look at when choosing an attorney, as any proceedings seeking cancellation of or opposition to a mark will be conducted within the Cuban system. Patent and copyright protection are also obtainable in Cuba, although no parallel to the Madrid Protocol exists for these forms of protection and therefore one must apply directly to the Cuban government.
Certain sales of goods have been permitted for years, but recent changes in Cuba policy have opened up more transactional fields, including telecommunication sales to the island and direct import of goods from Cuban entrepreneurs. Although export to Cuba is well established when it comes to agricultural items and building materials, technology exports is a growing field with room for rapid growth.
With great change comes great opportunity, but only to those who position themselves early and with the right representation. Understanding the Cuban government and people is critical to successful investment in this growing economic partner, and that deep understanding can only come from experience.
Klemchuk LLP is an Intellectual Property (IP), Technology, Internet, and Business law firm. The firm offers comprehensive legal services including litigation and enforcement of all forms of IP as well as registration and licensing of patents, trademarks, trade dress, and copyrights. The firm also provides a wide range of technology, Internet, e-commerce, and business services including business planning, formation, and financing, mergers and acquisitions, business litigation, data privacy, and domain name dispute resolution.
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