Four-Sided Doughnuts Are Serious Business: Indiana Bakeries Face Off In Lawsuit

Four-sided doughnuts are causing not-so-delicious drama in Indiana.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Valparaiso-based Family Express has been baking square doughnuts since 2005. With a decade of experience with the four-sided pastries, Family Express feels entitled to call the items what they technically are: “square donuts.”

There’s just one big problem. Another bakery in Terre Haute happens to be named Square Donuts — and this doughnut maker isn’t too pleased with the audacity of Family Express. Square Donuts have been putting out their four-sided products since the 1960s. As such, they don’t appreciate Family Express coming along and taking a bite out of their business with their attempted trademark.

This sweet beef didn’t materialize overnight; the New York Daily News writes that when Family Express began making their version of four-sided doughnuts in 2005, their Indiana rivals sent them “a cease-and-desist letter.”

The Tribune writes that Family Express didn’t believe its version of four-sided doughnuts was infringement. The business also claimed that after failing to hear back from their rival, they went right on putting out their square doughnuts.

Several years passed without incident until both bakeries moved to trademark “square donuts.” And to the chagrin of Square Donuts, the younger company appeared to get to the buzzer first. In 2013, Family Express was successful in getting the federal trademark for their four-sided pastries.

Family Express, for its part, attempted to be diplomatic with its Indiana rival. The company reportedly reached out to Square Donuts “to work out an agreement to allow them both to use the moniker.” The olive branch was rejected in February. Since the businesses are expanding, this four-sided feud is heating up. Family Express has now reportedly filed a complaint “for declaratory judgment Thursday in a U.S. District Court.”

The aim is to allow the Indiana bakery to be legally allowed to refer to their four-sided doughnuts as “square donuts” without any fuss from the actual Square Donut franchise. Family Express believes because the name is descriptive and generic in nature, their more established rivals don’t have the right to tell them to stop using the term — even if that phrase just happens to be their business’s actual name.

This may seem like much “a dough” about nothing, but there is quite a bit at stake. Consider the fact that Square Donuts is a business that has been around for decades. No doubt when they created their franchise in Indiana, the company expected to be the first and last name in four-sided pastries.

Then nearly forty years later, here comes a company that not only is upstaging its product (square donuts) but looking to trademark the company’s name (Square Donuts). It’s understandable that the older franchise would refuse to take the perceived infringement lying down.

On the flip side of the argument, Fresh Express may not have realized that they were interfering with Square Donuts when they created a version for themselves. Although the bakery offers four-sided doughnuts, they offer other delectable items as well. In their mind, getting to call their items “square donuts” is merely stating the obvious — not a deliberate attempt to rain on the other bakery’s parade.

There’s no indication at the moment how the courts will rule. However, some might feel that there is a much more fair way of settling the matter once and for all: Whoever makes the most delicious version of four-sided doughnuts should be the business that keeps the exclusive rights to the name.

Sadly, some people don’t like fun. In this lawsuit, the matter is going to be decided by the courts, and it’s a ruling that could have interesting implications in the long run.

Do you think Square Donuts is right to be put out by Fresh Express attempting to trademark a version of their company’s name? Would this be better settled in a bake-off? Share your thoughts on this unusual drama below!

[Photo courtesy of dennis crowley via Flickr | Cropped and Resized | CC BY-2.0 ]