by Todd Walker
Channel 2 News
12:28 PM AKST, March 1, 2011
An Anchorage businessman is locking antlers with a major corporation over branding. Roger Zak markets Caribrew Coffee in Alaska -- but Caribou Coffee, the Midwest coffee chain, claims Zak is infringing on its trademark.
For years Zak has brought quirky tourist-oriented products to Alaska stores, from moose-nugget chap stick to a tackle box shaped like a fish. It’s another item entirely, however, that’s bringing Outside lawyers to the state.
“It seems like you get attacked and they want you to be scared,” Zak said.
Since 1997 Zak has been selling packets of coffee around the state under the brand Caribrew Coffee -- but a legal brew-haha began a few years ago as he went to renew his license on the name.
Caribou Coffee, based out of Minneapolis, Minn., has a rewards program called the Caribrew Club. The program was created in 2007, so Zak believed Caribou was infringing on his trademark. He filed a petition for cancellation of the Caribrew Club name.
“I was just thinking, ‘Well, if you just told the truth and filed this petition of cancellation, things will all be done,’” Zak said. “So I filed the petition for cancellation and that was just the beginning; then the lawyers started coming down five-deep on my wife and I.”
Zak says the lawyers told him his registration on the name had expired by the time Caribou started the Caribrew Club.
“Like I explained to them, I got expired registrations on two Ford pickups in my backyard; they're still mine,” Zak said.
He says he was able to get the coffee conglomerate to back off on that note, but Caribou wasn't backing down completely.
“They do believe that the word ‘Caribrew’ somehow infringes on the word Caribou,” Zak said. “And I have yet to find anybody that will agree with them on that other than themselves.”
“The issue in trademark infringement is whether there is what's called the likelihood of confusion,” said Jon S. Dawson, a business attorney who deals with trademark infringement regularly.
Dawson says even though Caribou Coffee doesn't have a retail presence in Alaska, it may not matter because of the Internet.
“So the fact that they are not physically present in the state makes no difference,” he said. “Because they are registered there is a presumption they have rights nationwide, and they could, in fact, stop the use of conflicting mark in Alaska.”
Zak says all he wants to do is sit down with someone from Caribou over a cup of coffee and work the whole thing out, but so far he's heard nothing.
Even though he says his brands and quirky products are like his kids, Zak says life is too short to be bitter. If he has to, he says he'll move on and keep his sense of humor about it, putting on a hat sporting stuffed antlers.
“I did give the people from the company and the lawyers down there some hats, so if we have lock horns we all look the same, you know?” Zak said.
Dawson says trademark law may be forcing Caribou to sue Zak or risk the appearance of failing to enforce its trademark, which could result in its loss.
Zak says if the parties can't work something out soon, he plans to file for a summary judgment in the next few months and have a judge decide so he can move on.
Calls to Caribou Coffee and its attorney were not returned.
Contact Todd Walker at email@example.com
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