Archives for trademark



The Legality of “Dumb Starbucks”

By now, pretty much everyone has heard about how Comedy Central star Nathan Fielder opened his personal version of a Starbucks in an L.A. strip mall. Fielder’s “Dumb Starbucks” looked just like a real Starbucks – same logos, colors, store layouts, and similar products and menu. With the exception that everything was preceded by the word “dumb”, including the “Dumb Blonde Roast” coffee and the “Dumb Norah Jones” CDs on sale by the register.  Also, the coffee was free.

Fielder kept his involvement under wraps at first. But by Monday he revealed his ownership, and by Tuesday the L.A. County Board of Health had shut him down for operating without a license. And yet, while Dumb Starbucks lived, it created a sensation, with lines snaking down the street and Fielder invited onto Jimmy Kimmel to talk about his adventure.

Starbucks itself was not amused. “We are aware of this store, and it is not affiliated with Starbucks. We are evaluating next steps, and while we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark.” Starbucks spokeswoman Laurel Harper said in a statement. When pressed on whether Starbucks intends to take legal action, she replied, “That may happen. We’re not sure at this point.” Read More »



Trader Joe’s vs. Pirate Joe’s

Vancouver is one of the world’s most lovely and livable cities.  It sits on a glittering Pacific inlet at the base of dramatic mountains, has a temperate, mild climate, and a diverse and affluent population.  But for people who love to eat, it has one glaring flaw. There is no Trader Joe’s. [Related: do you know who own's Trader Joe's?]

That has always rankled Vancouverite Michael Hallatt. So much so that a couple of years ago Hallatt decided to open a store in the affluent Vancouver neighborhood of Kitsilano. He named it “Pirate Joe’s.” Hallatt stocked his new store by making frequent trips across the border to Trader Joe’s around the city of Bellingham, Washington. Hallatt spent over $350,000 on Trader Joe’s items, including Charmingly Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips, Gluten Free Rice Pasta, and Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner. Hallatt marks the products up by a couple of bucks and puts them on the shelves of Pirate Joe’s, where hungry Vancouverites have been snapping them up.

Which sounds like a decent business for Hallatt, and also a sweet deal for Trader Joe’s, which gets to sell a lot of its product in a market where it would otherwise sell nothing. But apparently Trader Joe’s doesn’t want Hallatt’s money. And now they’ve filed a lawsuit in Seattle claiming that Hallatt’s Pirate Joe’s business is infringing their trademarks.

Why on earth would Trader Joe’s be suing one of their best customers? And what, if anything, is wrong with reselling products?  Read More »



Why Are There Cronut Scalpers?

Between the din of the cicadas appearing up and down the East Coast and the media frenzy over the government’s mass surveillance programs, you might not have heard much about New Yorkers’ real obsession at the moment: the “cronut.” A cross between a croissant and a donut, the cronut is the invention of baker Dominique Ansel, who operates out of a shop in SoHo. Cronuts are so popular that lines form at 6 a.m. — 2 hours before the shop opens — and Ansel runs out within minutes. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet (and Craigslist) there is even a cronut black market, with unauthorized cronut scalpers charging up to $40 apiece for home delivery (a mark up of 700%). And of course there are cronut knockoffs appearing all over the world. Ansel has even trademarked the name “cronut.”

Which brings up two questions:

1. Why did it take so long for someone to invent a croissant-donut mash-up? 
2. And, perhaps more importantly for those who want to eat them, why do we see a cronut shortage? The genius of capitalism is that it matches supply with demand – and if there’s a lot of demand for cronuts, supply should quickly expand. Especially here. Cronuts aren’t especially hard to make, don’t require expensive equipment, and are currently unregulated (although give Mayor Bloomberg time.) Read More »



The Summer Trademark Olympics (Please Don’t Sue Us)

Whether the Olympics are around the corner (as they are now) or a few years away, there are always Olympic-themed events going on. Recently, a group called Ravelry sponsored a knitting competition called the “Ravelympics.” [Related post on Ravelry: "Is There an Elitist Oligarchy in the Underworld of Knitters?"] Whereas most people probably imagined a bunch of grandmothers knitting mufflers, the U.S. Olympic Committee saw a conspiracy to infringe its trademark in the word “Olympics.”

After enduring a lot of criticism, the USOC backed off the knitters. But what the USOC tried to do isn’t unusual.

In fact, just recently luxury goods purveyor Louis Vuitton threatened to sue Penn law school over a poster for an academic conference on the law of fashion that featured an artist’s funny take on the Louis Vuitton logo (with the famous “LV” replaced with a “TM”). Louis Vuitton didn’t see the joke, and threatened the law school (which, being a law school, knew enough not to be scared). Read More »



Who Owns Culture?

The question of who owns culture is a big one, especially when products associated with certain cultures or nations turn out to be very popular in the marketplace. Take espresso. In a famous scene from The Sopranos, Paulie Walnuts rants inside a Starbucks-like café as he watches the cash register ring with espresso orders: 

Paulie: The fuckin’ Italian people. How did we miss out on this? 

Pussy: What?

Paulie: Fuckin’ espresso, cappuccino. We invented this shit and all these other cocksuckers are getting’ rich off it. 

Pussy: Yeah, isn’t it amazing? 

Paulie: And it’s not just the money. It’s a pride thing. All our food: pizza, calzone, buffalo mozzarell’, olive oil. These fucks had nothing. They ate pootsie before we gave them the gift of our cuisine. But this, this is the worst. This espresso shit.

Pussy: Take it easy.  

Read More »



Can You Trademark a Color?

Could Pablo Picasso sue Claude Monet for using his signature melancholy blue color? That question was raised this week by a federal judge in New York. The suit before the judge was not actually brought by Picasso. But it did involve a trademark in a color.

As his many fans know, Christian Louboutin is an artist of the foot. His shoes are widely revered (see songstress Jennifer Lopez’s ode, “Louboutins”) and not cheap: close to four figures in many cases, and sometimes more. Louboutin shoes also feature a well-known quirk: red soles. And when the venerable fashion house of Yves St. Laurent began selling red soled shoes recently, Louboutin—who had trademarked said soles in 2008—quickly sued. Read More »



Are Rising Prices a Sign of Health in an Industry?

Or do they signify desperation? This is the question that arose earlier this month in Congress, when the House Judiciary Committee again took up the question of creating copyright protection for fashion designs.

We (really, Chris) testified as the sole opponents to the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act, or IDPPPA, which would for the first time in American history provide a short (3 year) copyright for fashion designs, such as the cut and look of a particular dress or suit. To bolster our argument against the IDPPPA, Chris presented data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed that since 1998 apparel prices in the U.S. had dropped or stayed steady—with one exception. At the very top level, prices rose dramatically in this period—by over 200%. The full testimony and graph can be found here. Read More »



How “Patent Trolling” Taxes Innovation

Applying for a patent is expensive. Fees can exceed $25,000, and most applications require at least a couple years of effort. We might expect that anyone considering applying for a patent would be fairly certain of the merits of their case for one. And yet, of the patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) that are subsequently litigated, 40% are declared invalid in court.

A court’s declaration that a patent is “invalid” means it should never have been granted in the first place, usually because the invention has been done before, or because it’s obvious to anyone familiar with the patent’s particular scientific or technical field. So why do so many people spend so much time and money filing for patents that are ultimately declared invalid? Read More »