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. You can’t.
    Larger government inevitably succumbs to the crony capitalism/fascism model.
    That’s why smaller government is preferable.

    “The Great Recession of 2008 was directly caused by unregulated capitalism.

  2. Steve, how is this a capitalism problem?
    What regulation would prevent this lawsuit?

    Seems like a law problem to me.
    Too easy to bully and win using the law as a weapon.

    1. KCFleming: A socratic retort: How can one legislate public policy on any constructive level, when politicians are spokespersons for Wall Street rather than people and Wall Street believes greed is a virtue?

  3. @ Steve Whatever is causing the economy to drag cannot be unregulated capitalism which does not exist in this country, and hasn’t existed for a century. Roughly 2/3 of what the federal government does is to allocate income, regulate behavior especially in the business world, and distribute favors through a ridiculously complex tax code. You might note that the Federal Register comes in at 80K+ pages year after year.

    The more likely culprit is government at all levels that interferes with markets through regulation and distorts prices by debasing the currency. Reagan was right about government’s view of the economy: “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.”

    1. JR: The Great Recession of 2008 was directly caused by unregulated capitalism. People lost their retirement and homes. As a result, it’s not a stretch to say that many resorting to theft, unlike the wealthy thieves that put them in those circumstances.

  4. Nick writes, “I will no longer frequent them [Caribou Coffee]. I always support local coffee shops and businesses.”

    Agreed, and hope the trip’s going well. I noticed you saved the best, Oregon, for last.

  5. The real drag on the economy is unregulated capitalism. This is a perfect example.

    Want more? Vote for either of the two-headed serpents of the two major parties.

  6. In a just society, the defendants ought to win a summary judgement given the facts presented. Unfortunately, we live in an influence buying society instead.

  7. The public should react with a viral boycott, which shouldn’t be lifted until the coffee company not only backs off but also pays all legal costs and damages of the diner. In addition, I would say that demonstrations should begin outside the homes of every single corpoate director. These high-and-mighty corporate goons will never change their behavior until you first hit them in the pocketbook or scare the hell out of them. The goons in the music industry backed off ftom sueing file-sharing teenagers only after the public backlash nearly wiped them out altogether.

  8. They’re all drags for chrissake! I’m in Minneapolis, where Caribou is big. I will no longer frequent them. I always support local coffee shops and businesses. Only go to Starbucks when I have no other choice[one needs coffee within 10 minutes of waking]. Caribou was, until now, an OK alternative.

  9. People so often complain that the biggest drag on the SYSTEM is people suing their doctors, merchants and corporations for their injuries. In fact the real drag on the system is companies suing each other. It drives up costs for consumers and ties up our courts needlessly. Real legal reform would be doing something to get companies to stop suing each other.

  10. I find it interesting that the law firms are thuggish but the corporations who use these tactics are not. Why any one is surprised by Obma’s willingness to do anything corporations want is beyond me the man is a corporatist. Add to that the has a library to build and a foundation to fund.

    Our intellectual property laws were supposed to encourage creativity but they are now used to throttle creativity and competition. They are used to black mail the little guy while the courts and our “leaders” continue enable. It’s truly disgusting.

  11. This bullying is no accident. Caribou Coffee Co. is one of many companies known to be sharia complient. This includes restrictions made by members on their business boards. Money , influence and policies are used to promote the radical sharia lifestyle people are fleeing in some countries. Intimidation is but one of their tools.

  12. Despicable.
    Our system is broken.
    Hopefully this story goes viral and costs the Coffee company a great deal of money.

    From the FB page
    “the company that owns them also owns Keurig, Krispy Kreme, Pete’s Coffee and Tea, Intelligentsia Coffee, and Douwe Egbert’s coffee….just to name a few.”

    Here is the diners FB page.

  13. Caribou Coffee has moved into Arizona and has taken over several Einstein Bagel shops. My first experience with Caribou Coffee was Mall of the Americas in Minneapolis. They brew a great cup of coffee. However, they are wrong on this case.

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