San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Lawsuit Filed Over Juan Valdez and His Mule

T-shirts made by Costa Rican company Café Britt claim that “Juan Valdez drinks Costa Rican Coffee” – but the Colombian National Coffee-Growers’ Association (Fedecafé), which owns the rights to the fictional coffee farmer’s name and image, does not appear to be amused.

An attempt to resolve the conflict through an agreement in which Britt would have promised to respect intellectual property laws fell through when Britt refused to sign the document, Fedecafé representatives told the financial weekly El Financiero. In response, Fedecafé filed a suit in a court in Heredia, north of San José, where the Costa Rican company has its headquarters.

Britt Manager Pablo Vargas told the weekly he was unfamiliar with the content of the suit but that the situation should be analyzed to determine “why (Fedecafé) feels such rivalry with Café Britt” and what damage the federation feels it has suffered.

The shirts in question, as shown in El Financiero, include a graphic similar to Fedecafé’s logo, showing Valdez and his mule Conchita. Below an assertion that Valdez prefers Tico java, the shirt reads, “100% Café de Costa Rica.” (Fedecafé’s logo is accompanied by the phrase “100% Colombian Coffee.”)

The federation has used the Juan Valdez character – protected by Costa Rican intellectual property rights laws since 1964 – in promotion materials since 1959, the newspaper reported. Fedecafé last week introduced Carlos Castañeda, the third actor to play Valdez. His predecessor, Carlos Sánchez, filled the role for 37 years.


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