Another knee-jerk exercise in corporate control

Oliver told me about this story he heard on CBC radio the other day. Apparently Starbucks is threatening to sue a small aboriginal-owned restaurant in a remote part of British Columbia, claiming that the restaurant, named “HaidaBucks,” has violated the coffee giant’s trademark.

The restaurant owners have responded by saying that the “bucks” part of the name has nothing to do with coffee. “Aboriginal men were called bucks and we’re also Haidas,” said co-owner Darren Swanson. “The three aboriginal partners are all Haidas. That’s how we came up with the name.”

Starbucks claims that HaidaBucks is a “confusion variation” of their trademarked name, and they have stated their intent to take legal action to stop this confusion from occurring.

Of course, this is patently absurd. HaidaBucks is located in the Queen Charlotte Islands, in the small village of Masset, population 1500. “I couldn’t see a Starbucks opening here for another 150 years,” says Swanson. “It’s a pretty isolated place.”

And only an idiot would confuse the restaurant’s look or service with the international coffee conglomerate. Swanson describes HaidaBucks as having a longhouse façade, and it serves a variety of foods, including lasagna, chili, pizza, fresh soups, sub sandwiches, salads and changing daily specials, not to mention fresh baked Belgian chocolate brownies, pies, cheesecakes and cookies. Of course, the real problem might be the brand of coffee they serve: Seattle’s Best.

The restaurant, supported by the Haida Gwaii Community Futures, held its grand opening in 1999. “This was the first venture for all of us involved,” the owners stated, “and considering all the effort that went into it, things are working out really well.”

Spoken too soon.

“Lots of men out there are called Haida bucks. It’s kind of our pet name,” says Swanson. “It’s got nothing to do with them [Starbucks].”

Maybe it does or maybe it doesn't. Regardless, Swanson and his co-owners intend to fight. Best of luck to them and to all the little people.