‘Charbucks’ and Chipotle: Trademark issues tip toward David, away from Goliath

November 22, 2013

Charbucks and ChipotleA few years ago, when I would walk home from law school through the downtown Minneapolis skyway, I’d pass a restaurant called Ipolti Indian Grill. Its logo was a stylized pepper of some sort.

I probably don’t need to tell you that the name and logo of Ipolti are very similar to that of Chipotle Mexican Grill. I’m not the only one to notice this; local food maven Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl has, I know, but I wondered — has Chipotle?

For all I know, the Denver-based 1,500-restaurant behemoth is aware that a mom-and-pop joint in the Frozen Vastness of The North seems to be piggybacking on its popularity and just doesn’t care. It may not even be worth Chipotle’s time and effort to make much of a fuss.

Another possibility: Chipotle knows about Ipolti and doesn’t like it, but realizes its chances of asserting its trademark rights are slim. Witness the case of Starbucks and “Charbucks”.

Recently, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that Black Bear Micro Roastery could keep selling its “Charbucks” brand coffee because there was only a “weak” association between the words “Starbucks” and “Charbucks” and the risk that Starbucks’ brand would be blurred appeared minimal. Personally, I read a little anti-big-company bias into that decision. I don’t find it that hard to believe that a harried grocery store shopper would think that “Charbucks” was some sort of fun Starbucks promotion.

Sidenote: As far as I know, Black Bear Roastery didn’t make any kind of argument that its “Charbucks” brand name was a parody or spoof of “Starbucks.” If it had, do you think it would have gotten anywhere?