Indiana Bakeries Square Off Over Square Donuts
The world of donuts is not a particularly cutthroat one, and lengthy legal battles aren’t really what you think of when you think about delicious morning pastries. But Square Donuts, a small local chain in south Indiana, is currently taking legal action against Family Express, another small chain in north Indiana, over what they claim is trademark infringement.
Donuts themselves are, thankfully, not trademarked, so what unique donut property are they fighting over? The issue is that both bakeries make square donuts. Squares aren’t trademarked either, but Square Donuts, which has been in operation since the 1960s, is claiming that the name “Square Donuts” is. Family Express, which started making donuts in 2005, also calls its square donuts “Square Donuts”, marketing them as such on their website and in their shops.
Square Donuts has a registered, federal trademark on the name “Square Donuts”, so legally they have a right to complain. They first issued a cease-and-desist order to Family Express in 2006 but didn’t take any further action at the time. Recently, though, Square donuts has made a legal complaint and renewed their cease-and-desist order against Family Express.
Family Express, for their part, claim that the name is “descriptive and generic” (what else would they call donuts that are shaped like squares?) and are asking a judge to rule that the trademark is too generic to be valid. They can’t infringe on a trademark that doesn’t exist, and both shops would be able to continue making their square donuts and calling them Square Donuts.
Both chains are very popular and well-liked in their respective communities. Local media refers to Family Express as “one of the Region’s favorite donuts” and a typical Yelp review for Square Donuts reads, “Wow, what a donut, light and fluffy with just the right amount of filling and glaze.”
Lots to choose from here on Saturday! pic.twitter.com/nFoYS82v
— Square Donuts (@SquareDonutsIND) February 9, 2013
The fact that the two chains are so well-loved is largely the reason they’re now coming into conflict. Both chains are currently expanding; as north-Indiana-based Family Express moves south and south-Indiana-based Square Donuts moves north, their territories will soon be coming into conflict. Square-shaped donuts are, of course, nothing new, and there are donut shops all over the country that sell them. But, because both chains market themselves heavily based on their unusually-shaped donuts, the issue of similar gimmicks and resulting customer confusion becomes a more pressing issue as they both move statewide.
There have certainly been cases of legal battles over franchising and trademarks in the donut world before—Dunkin’ Donuts is notoriously litigious, and just last year, was engaged in a legal battle with some former franchises in Quebec over their right to use the Dunkin’ Donuts name and brand—but they usually involve large, national chains. Family Express and Square Donuts are both very local and both began as individual shops that then expanded. Furthermore, while it isn’t exactly part of the artisan donuts trend, Square Donuts is a small-batch, high-quality kind of place that has been declared by several local papers to be one of the best donut shops in the state.
No decision has been made yet, and it may be a while before the dispute is settled. Both sides have valid arguments, and it may end up being that both are allowed to continue operating with the same name—or north Indianans may soon be enjoying Family Express quadrangular pastries.