Caribou Coffee Learns That Even When You Win As A Trademark Bully, You Can Still Lose
from the backlash dept
Whenever we talk about trademark bullies, especially those aggressively pursuing smaller businesses on shaky claims of brand confusion, a common question arises: what can we do to make this kind of thing stop? There are potentially several answers to this question, but one of the most simple is to behave in a way that makes trademark bullying a bad business decision.
Take Caribou Coffee, for instance. America's second-largest coffee retailer recently sued a tiny Michigan business called Blue Caribou Cafe, which is exactly the kind of small-market coffee and diner that you're picturing in your head right now. Caribou Coffee won its lawsuit, meaning that Blue Caribou Cafe will have to change its name, its branding, its storefront signage, and pay some $5,000 in attorney's fees. The basis for the lawsuit was the claim by Caribou Coffee that customers would be confused by the similar nature of the two names.
Well, those same customers are now speaking up, as they are mighty pissed off at Caribou Coffee's actions.
Comments on social media show that fans of the cafe and of small businesses generally are unhappy with Caribou Coffee for bringing the legal action, and some said they would boycott the company’s stores and products. Some of the strongest criticism has been posted on Caribou’s own Facebook page.
Those comments posted on Caribou Coffee's own Facebook page are about what you'd expect.
So, the question is whether this trademark bullying was worth it for Caribou Coffee. We can dispense with any debate over the validity of the company's legal action, I think. Pimping some kind of customer confusion between the massive retailer and a local coffee shop and diner is beyond silly. The company trotted out the tired excuse claiming that trademark law required them to do all of this, which isn't true. So, in light of all that, and in light of what has been a pretty clear public backlash from the very people whom it claimed would be confused, was the bullying worth it for Caribou Coffee?
It's hard to imagine that it was. Already the company is doing some scrambling to try to put a PR lid on this whole thing. For example, the business formely known as Blue Caribou Cafe started a GoFundMe campaign to get funds for all the rebranding it must now do, and Caribou Coffee contributed to it. That's nice, but all that does is add more to the cost of taking the unnecessary legal action to begin with. Here's the question to ask: how many customers did Caribou Coffee gain with its trademark lawsuit, and how many did it lose?
It seems clear B is greater than A in this case, which makes this whole thing a net negative for Caribou Coffee. Perhaps next time it will think twice before trying to bully a local small business.