Apr 08, 2023

Faked Intimacy and the Game in the Name


       April 8, 2023

THE abolition of the tobacco monopoly by virtue of a decree dated June 25, 1880 signaled the start of a heyday for would-be Chinese tobacco manufacturers. The fact that the headquarters of the Tobacco Monopoly was situated in Binondo helped the Chinese gain control of the cigarette manufacturing industry. But more than the accident of consequence was their industry and innovation. After the death of the monopoly, hundreds of Chinese became middlemen for the collection of leaf tobacco. Soon they became manufacturers. Shunning competition from the big Spanish and foreign-owned tobacco factories like Alhambra, La Germinal, La Insular and Tabacalera, the Chinese started to produce cheap cigarillos called "cigarros de beri-beri" for the mass market. The distribution network of the Chinese also greatly enhanced business success.

Once the tobacco trade was demonopolized, Chinese buyers began to purchase cheaper grades and leftovers which the bigger tobacco firms like the Tabacalera rejected. From Aparri, at the mouth of the Cagayan River, the Chinese made three-month trips all over the northern valley gathering tobacco leaves. They also set-up sari-sari (variety) stores in the rich tobacco-growing regions of Northern Luzon and bartered their consumer goods for tobacco.

Soon, because of their expanding businesses, they were embroiled in legal turmoil.

In 1903, the Sociedad "Germinal" filed a complaint against Chinese tradesmen Chan Chuico and Manuel Nubla. It was alleged that the two were selling cigarettes also with the trademark "La Intimidad" (Intimacy) presented in a like form, with wrapper drawings and company logo that were nearly identical to the "La Intimidad" cigarettes registered and sold by La Germinal.

One witness testified to having made four purchases of the fake "La Intimidad" in quantities of 500 packages at a time, at the cost of P40 a thousand at Nubla's house on No. 8, Calle Salazar in the months of February and March 1903; and according to the same witness, it was Nubla himself who made the sale, telling the buyer that his brand of "La Intimidad" is cheaper than the ones being sold by La Germinal company.

Another witness testified that he bought the fake cigarettes at Nubla's house in quantities of 100 packages. Nubla's co-defendant, Chan Chuico, admitted that the bogus cigarettes were being manufactured at Nubla's house, but the latter insisted that he had nothing to do with the manufacture of the fake cigarettes, and that he was only the lessor of Chan-Chuico, the sole and actual manufacturer.

After trial, the defendant Nubla was directed to refrain from selling cigarettes "made up in packages resembling or similar to those used by La Germinal." The reason for this light punishment was that penal laws on trademark infringement did not yet exist at that time, and La Germinal was not allowed to prove a decrease in sales. There existed no evidence to prove that the decrease in sales was entirely due to the acts of Nubla selling his spurious intimacy.

Another case, which involved the name of a cigarette label registered a year later, was resolved by the Supreme Court.

On Oct. 6, 1904, a cigarette label called "Alhambra 25 Chorittos" was registered with the Insular Government of the Philippine Islands by the Alhambra Fabrica de Tabacos, Cigarrillos y Picadura. After almost two decades, on Feb. 23, 1922, another label containing the word "Chorritos" in "20 Chorritos de Gamu" was registered by Enrique Ga. Caruana.

On March 3, 1925, La Yebana secured registration of a trademark described in the application as having the words "La Yebana Chorritos," which was for that class of special cigarettes made by the La Yebana factory.

On Aug. 21, 1928, the successor company of Alhambra Fabrica de Tabacos, Cigarrillos y Picadura, filed an application for the registration of a trademark with the words "Alhambra Chorritos." As expected, La Yebana opposed the application because the registration of the Alhambra trademark virtually stole the word "Chorritos" so prominent in the label La Yebana had previously registered.

The Bureau of Commerce and Industry overruled the opposition, so La Yebana had no other choice but to appeal the decision to the courts which, in turn, upheld the decision of the said bureau.

Undaunted, La Yebana then appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that the word "Chorritos" refers to a local name given to a special kind of cigarette, the tobacco of which is rolled in sweetened black paper.

La Yebana could not legally appropriate for itself or for its own use as its own the word "Chorritos" because like the words "corona," "especiales," "perfecto," which local cigar manufacturers used to designate different shapes and forms of cigars, in like manner, the word "Chorritos" can be used as in "'La Yebana Chorritos,' 'Alhambra Chorritos,' 'Chorritos de Gamu.'" The court also found, upon examination of the wrappers submitted in evidence by La Yebana and Alhambra "an entire lack of... similarity between their respective trademarks."

There were other cases filed by Spanish manufacturers against Chinese traders and by revenue officers during the American period, but the demand for tobacco continued to surge, and traders and manufacturers were only too happy to feed the irreversible addiction to the golden leaf.