It’s a classic David and Goliath story. The locally owned Blue Caribou Café located in Beulah, Michigan had to change its name and branding materials because they could not afford to fight the Minneapolis–based, German owned, second largest coffee retail chain in the nation. The Caribou Coffee Company.

No one would confuse one for the other. The logos are different. The Blue Caribou Cafe serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all day, plus baked goods, ice cream and yes, even coffee. Caribou Coffee is a coffee retail chain, and the closest one is 300 miles from the Blue Caribou Cafe. The only thing they share is the word caribou and as owner Kelly Chorley says, “I don’t know how you can copyright an animal.”*

We’re all too familiar with this situation. Gillis, Way & Campbell recently prevailed in a similar case for a client with a patent infringement lawsuit. Fortunately, courts will carefully consider whether infringement is valid making it possible for any business to protect its intellectual property.

As a business owner or manager, it’s crucial to have an experienced law firm on your side and take the proper steps to safeguard your intellectual property.

Start with a unique name. The more unique, the better. The Blue Caribou Cafe and Caribou Coffee each is described in the business name – one as a café and one as a coffee retailer. Caribou, the one-word similarity in each name, may be viewed by the courts as a failure to meet the legal standards of infringement, but was enough to get attention and create a financial burden for the family run cafe.

Research for conflicts. Research is the best defense against a possible infringement on another brand. You can search trademarks and patents at www.uspto.gov. for copyrights go to www.copyright.gov/records.

Register your marks and patents. Learn the differences between trademarks, service marks, copyrights and patents and register them by using the links above.

Protect website content. Creative blog postings and original content created for websites and or distributed on the web can be protected by copyright.

Monitor your brand consistently. Establish a plan to consistently monitor your brand and the brands of competitors. Include global monitoring, even if your business is local; note that Caribou Coffee is a German entity.

Resources for this post were provided by:

Thinning The Herd: Caribou Coffee Sues Small “Blue Caribou” Diner Under Trademark by Jonathan Turley of jonathanturley.org at http://bit.ly/25CW9NF

Caribou Coffee getting heat for trademark lawsuit against small Michigan cafe by Tom Meersman of the Star Tribune at http://strib.mn/25jhcBf

*German coffee company crushes American family’s dream by Todd Starnes, Fox News.com at http://fxn.ws/246YA4Z