Thinning The Herd: Caribou Coffee Sues Small “Blue Caribou” Diner Under Trademark

Caribou_(PSF)We have another example of how copyright and trademark laws are being using to bully and stifle individuals or small businesses. In Beulah, Michigan, locals enjoy their Blue Caribou Cafe and its quirky dishes like Hypocrite Omelet (a vegetarian omelet with your choice of meat.) However, if Caribou Coffee Company has the final say, Blue Caribou may no more. You guessed it. Caribou Coffee appears to believe that it owns Caribou-themed restaurants.

We have been discussing a disturbing trend in copyright and trademark claims over things occurring in public or common phrases or terms. (For a prior column, click here). We have often discussed the abusive expansion of copyright and trademark laws. This includes common phrases, symbols, and images being claimed as private property. (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). This included a New York artist claiming that he holds the trademark to symbol π.

In this case, Caribou Coffee Company, a Minneapolis-based German-owned company, has sued that the diner of causing irreparable harm due to its logo and name.

Caribou Coffee Company ordered the diner to cease and desist using the name and the log in a trademark infringement lawsuit filed in Grand Rapids.

By the way, the closest Caribou Coffee shop is 300 miles. (It is not clear how this action will impact customers who may be more likely to pass by the next Caribou Coffee shop in favor of a Starbucks or even better a local coffee shop).

Then there is the fact that this is a diner not a coffee shop. The Blue Caribou Café is basically known as an all-day breakfast and giant scoops of Moomers Ice Cream.

Then there are the two logos which do not seem particularly confusing or hard to distinguish:



Now the owners are broke from litigation costs and an auto accident involving one of the owners. Most businesses cave after receiving one of these threatening letters.

While this claim rightfully seems insane to average people, it is not so bizarre to this area of law. We are seeing these claims multiply because Congress has repeatedly caved into a powerful lobby in Washington expanding these protections and has done nothing to rein in their copyright and trademarks firms. We have previously discussed how President Obama has repeatedly yielded to the “copyright hawks” who have steadily increased the penalties for copyright and trademark violations, including criminal penalties. Despite the abuse of average citizens by thuggish law firms and prosecutors, the Obama Administration continues to support draconian measures against citizens. The result is that firms may routinely send out these thuggish threats and claim ownership to such things as the skyline of New York city. It is small business and average people who are being victimized because they do not have any comparable lobby in Congress.

30 thoughts on “Thinning The Herd: Caribou Coffee Sues Small “Blue Caribou” Diner Under Trademark”

  1. steveg:

    “The Great Recession of 2008 was directly caused by unregulated capitalism. People lost their retirement and homes.”

    I disagree. The subprime mortgage crisis helped cause that recession. And who’s idea was it that you should force banks to give loans to people with bad credit and no hope of paying the money back? Because capitalist banks sure didn’t. It was yet another ultra Left Liberal idea that burned the people they said they wanted to help. Banks used to give A paper loans only, and foreclosures were rare. But as soon as politicians began with their “homeownership is a right” and “a home for every American,” then you had the predictable wave of foreclosures. The Left also opposed reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and bundling loans was considered a perfectly acceptable way for banks to mitigate the risk they were forced to take on.

    Capitalism is the natural condition of the free human being. Take any living, breathing human, and they will typically try to find ways to better their condition – sell babysitting services, sell eggs, fix cars…whatever. That is why truly socialist countries have to make capitalism illegal, and encourage neighbors to tell on each other. A socialist has no hope or means to improve his condition, or give his kids more food or warmer clothes. Everyone waits in lines hours long to buy the meager goods on the shelves when the stores are open. You get paid the same pittance whether you work hard, or at all, or not. That’s not fair and a hopeless existence.

    Capitalism in the framework of a democracy is fair.

    1. Karen writes “steveg: ‘The Great Recession of 2008 was directly caused by unregulated capitalism. People lost their retirement and homes.’ I disagree. The subprime mortgage crisis helped cause that recession. And who’s idea was it that you should force banks to give loans to people with bad credit and no hope of paying the money back? Because capitalist banks sure didn’t. ”

      Sure, the subprime mortgage debacle “helped” (if it wasn’t the primary cause) of the recession, but liars loans were the result of deregulation: 1) gutting Glass-Steagall and 2) creating the financial services industry.

      That any entity could force banks too big to fail to provide loans to applicants without means to service those loans and then just absorb those almost-guaranteed losses simply defies good business judgment and logic. Again, banks were providing those loans as a result of Glass-Steagall being gutted and the financial services industry being created. They grouped those loans and packaged them properly to get them top ratings and then sold them off to those who bet against them in the derivatives market. And that’s what you get with deregulation – the greed-is-a-virtue crowd. Yet, it appears you believe that subprime mortgage lending was no scam.

      I’m not the only one who thinks this:

      “In mid-January 2008, hedge fund Paulson & Co. hired Greenspan as an adviser. According to the terms of their agreement he was not to advise any other hedge fund while working for Paulson. (In 2007 Paulson had foreseen the collapse of the sub-prime housing market and hired Goldman Sachs to package their sub-prime holdings into derivatives and sell them. Some economic commentators blamed this collapse on Greenspan’s policies while at the Fed.)[45][46]”

      Alan Greenspan, the deregulation guru, after 30 years as Federal Reserve Chairman asked for forgiveness for his sins instead of seeking permission beforehand.

  2. I think that all of us need to focus on the most vital and pressing issue of our times, instead of these trivial news stories. I speak, of course, of transgender bathrooms. So let’s us cease avoiding this issue and seeking distractions from it. Let us devote all of our free time to it. I’m confident that if we all do this, we will finally develop bathrooms that can be used by all, regardless of a person’s gender or genders, or various combinations and permutations thereof, whether or not involving body transformations, adjustments, or modifications of any kind, thereof.

  3. I’ve been to the Blue Caribou Cafe. I enjoyed it, and it would be a shame if they had to close because of this.

    I would boycott Caribou Coffee, but I don’t drink coffee and there are no locations within 40 miles.

  4. @ Steve Wall Street today is not an example of unregulated capitalism. They work with (not against) a crony government, and without that assistance and its mandates could not have caused the 2008 mortgage meltdown. Banks lowered mortgage underwriting standards in response to plenty of bipartisan meddling in the mortgage market. HUD instituted a that 42% of mortgages purchased by Fannie and Freddie support low and moderate income families. HUD raised that target to 50% in 2000, and to 54% in 2004 and to 56% by 2007. Predictably, banks made more sub-prime loans. We also had the Community Reinvestment act pushing banks to lend more to risky borrowers, and the Federal Reserve juicing a real estate bubble that inflated expected collateral values.

    How is this market unregulated? Does the term “unregulated” have a meaning in law that those of us in other professions cannot understand?

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