Pirate Joe’s involved in a Trademark Dispute

All that Michael Hallat, a resident of British Columbia wanted was to have his favorite gluten-free granola and chocolate covered potato chips from the American grocery chain Trader Joe’s. The one thing that restrained him from doing so was that Trader Joe’s has no outlets in Canada for Hallat to purchase his favorite snacks. In order to overcome this Hallat, 53, opened his own store, Pirate Joe’s, and began reselling Trader Joe’s products to hungry Canucks – at a modest profit. In less than a period of two years, he loaded more than $350,000 of Trader Joe’s items into his truck and drove them across the border. Hallatt views himself as on the largest customer of Trader Joe’s, but Trader Joe’s considered him as a threat.

So last year Trader Joe’s filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington state accusing Hallatt of infringing on its trademark through his business. For that reason Hallatt has been blacklisted from regular Trader Joe’s outlets he visited in Washington, forcing him to travel to Oregon and California to find his desired merchandise. Hallatt has even dressed in drag while shopping in order to escape detection. In spite of these hindrances, Hallatt has do not plan to close down Pirate Joe’s (though he changed the name of his store to “Irate Joe’s” to more accurately manifesting his feelings toward Trader Joe’s).

Several experts in trademark law believes that the potentials for the lawsuit filed by Trader Joe’s is not so strong. As per professors Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman, writing for Freakonomics: “Trademark law doesn’t confer on trademark owners the right to control subsequent unauthorized resales of genuine products, at least if the reseller doesn’t alter the product in a way that confuses consumers.” They also compared the photos of Hallat’s store with a conventional outlet of Trader Joe’s and reached the conclusion that there would be no possible confusion among the customers. There are also other observers who think that the case would have been much stronger if Trader Joe’s had outlets in Canada or if Hallat started his shop in the United States. However, in that case Hallat would not even have opened his store, given Trader Joe’s ability to charge normal prices as against Hallatt’s marked-up prices and would likely have driven Pirate Joe’s out of business rather quickly.

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