DuetsBlog Collaborations in Creativity & the Law

Caribou v Blue Caribou : Doing things right the first time.

Posted in Branding, Guest Bloggers, Infringement, Trademarks, USPTO

—Aaron Keller, Managing Principal at Capsule

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The world of lean startup and agile product development are interweaving methods that work in digital, but may not make sense for the physical world. For instance, if you had launched Blue Caribou (small cafe in Michigan) and got a letter from Caribou in Minnesota claiming you are infringing on their trademark, you’d pivot. While that makes sense for a small team venture with funding and a large potential upside, it doesn’t make sense for a small community venture with small potential upside. Obvious, right?

Yet, if you read into this case between Caribou Coffee and Blue Caribou, you might start to boil over with anger against “the big guys” at Caribou for claiming their intellectual property against the little guys. Let’s take a moment to argue the other side of it. Remember, Caribou was the little guy and gal at one point. They went to a proper brand strategy and design firm, got a name they could protect and registered it with the US Patent and Trademark office. The little ones in Michigan mentioned “they did everything proper by registering with the state of Michigan.” The state of Michigan does nothing to help protect a US trademark. What they likely did is register their business with the state. While we all appreciate the entrepreneurial “get up and go” of the Blue Caribou, there are proper ways to do things in order to avoid walking on to someone’s intellectual property.

Caribou can’t be blamed for someone not properly checking their new name and logo against the US Trademark database. Now, from what we can gather from the articles written, a proper firm in Michigan has volunteered their services to come up with a new brand for the cafe. We feel for the Blue Caribou and before we noticed a firm stepped in to help, we considered reaching out with the same offer. It pains us as small business owners ourselves to see a situation like this unfold. It is a significant cost to launch a venture ‘ brand of any type. Having to do it twice is, well, twice as challenging for the Blue Caribou team. This, of course, makes a case for doing it right the first time. The expense may be more more than doing it with your cousin in his double-wide trailer home, but knowing what you’ve avoided is more valuable than keeping your cousin stocked in PBR and Lean Cuisine.

The United States of America is one of the easiest places to start a new venture. A clear indication of this is the number of people from all over the globe who come here and start something. We don’t make it terribly challenging to get started, because we all know it is plenty challenging to keep a business up, running smoothly and profitable. So, when we see the little guy and gal crying foul by the big Caribou Coffee corporation, we want to help everyone step back and get some perspective. Have a cup of coffee, think about it and get started on your own venture.

As an entrepreneur and professional who has worked with hundreds of start-ups in a variety of categories, we offer the ability to reduce the risk of taking any new venture to market. No one can predict or guarantee success, but with professional help you can remove the Smart car sized potholes in the road to a venture success. Doing it right the first time can be far less expensive and painful than launching the same venture twice.


Reach out if you’d like to debate the merits of lean startups, pivoting or doing things right the first time. We’ve got plenty of stories to share and cases examples to help provide perspective and help you do things right the first time, and look pretty good doing it.