Recent Trademark Issue
Montana Coffee Traders FAQ
Montana Coffee Traders is dedicated to being a positive part of people’s everyday lives. We support sustainable practices by offering certified organic and fair trade coffees with a focus on quality and social responsibility. We strive to operate in a manner that respects and supports the people, the communities, and the land that sustains us all.
False information is being spread over a business dispute with Ghost Town Coffee Roasters regarding our trademarked brand name for our Glacier® blend of coffee. We want to communicate the sincere, repeated efforts we made to easily resolve this issue while being repeatedly ignored. The court was also ignored. We are disappointed this couldn’t have been handled more professionally and without a lot of drama.
What is the legal issue?
Ghost Town Coffee Roasters began selling their own Glacier-branded coffee and we were concerned that consumers would be confused by two companies selling under an identical brand name.
How can a word like “Glacier” be trademarked for a coffee?
Many words are trademarked so there is no confusion in the marketplace over a brand. A word can be trademarked if it identifies a brand. We began selling this brand in 1982 and received a federal trademark registration from the United States Patent & Trademark Office, recognizing our exclusive right to use Glacier® for coffee nationwide in 1999. If a company does not defend a trademark, a company may lose its business, reputation, sales, and customers. Not defending a trademark also dilutes a brand and confuses consumers. Trademarks aren't automatically safeguarded. You need to actively defend them to maintain their exclusivity.
Does that mean I can’t use the word “Glacier”?
There is a common misconception that ownership of a trademark cannot apply to a “common” word. Ownership of a trademark is only limited to a specific product or service. Common terms are actually used as trademarks all the time. For instance, “apple” is a common word, but Apple® is a trademark for computers. Accordingly, while Montana Coffee Traders’ Glacier® trademark does not prevent people from using “glacier” as a common word, it does prevent others from selling coffee under an identical or confusingly similar brand.
Are you a locally-owned business?
We are a small, local business with four locations in the Flathead Valley. We’ve proudly been selling our Glacier® blend coffee for over 40 years. Our founders established the company in a small farmhouse in Whitefish in 1981. The couple moved to Texas in 1994, where they established Texas Coffee Traders. MCT has always been Montana-run, with approximately 100 local employees.
When did you contact Ghost Town?
We contacted Ghost Town in April and May 2023, asking them to choose another name. We sent two different registered letters that were signed for by the owners and they were ignored.
Were the legal documents hard to understand?
The 4-page letter was concise, kind, and direct, and included two illustrations of the coffee in question, with a 2-page attachment documenting the trademark. Our lawyer kindly suggested ways to find branding legal advice, stated that we would prefer to resolve the issue amicably, and that we would not pursue any claims for monetary relief. We simply asked for an initial response and to immediately cease use of the trademark in question.
Why did you file a lawsuit?
After no response from Ghost Town for over two months, we chose to file a lawsuit in June to ensure Ghost Town would stop selling coffee with the same name as our signature blend.
How did they respond to the lawsuit?
Despite having ample notice and the option to request extensions, Ghost Town never answered the lawsuit. Instead, they chose to ignore the court for over two months and continued to sell their own Glacier coffee for four months after receiving our first letter.
How did the court rule?
Given their repeated non-response, the court quickly ruled in our favor. Instead of asking the court for damages, we only asked for legal expenses, which could have been avoided if they had responded at any point. The court agreed that the request was fair and reasonable and ordered Ghost Town to pay our legal costs.
When did they pay you?
After the court’s decision, we were finally contacted by a lawyer representing Ghost Town and we agreed they could have a payment plan. But once again, they chose to refrain from responding to us after that call. After three months, MCT went back to the court to inform them that Ghost Town was not responding regarding payment. It was at that point the court ordered Ghost Town’s bank to directly reimburse our legal costs. MCT received payment for the court mandated legal fees a month after Ghost Town launched the Go Fund Me.
Why is there such a buzz on social media about this?
Many of those posting are likely getting information from Ghost Town’s GoFundMe page post, which distorts information, ignores crucial facts, and in some instances fabricates events. On Saturday we began getting threats on social media. There were also suggestions to give us fake reviews on Yelp and Google, as well as boycott our business.
Why did you stop allowing comments on social media?
We received threats of violence and other abuse. We will re-open comments and questions after a brief pause. We ask everyone to be respectful and not post anything with ill intent toward Ghost Town. We simply want the accurate facts to be understood and to protect our employees, company, and brand. If you have a specific question, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is a cease and desist letter?
A cease and desist letter is a typical first contact from a business’s lawyer defending a trademark or copyright for a client, which points out the concerned usage and asks to be contacted back within a certain time period to resolve the issue in an amicable way. The letter provides notice that the sender has concerns of possible legal infringement on some aspect of their brand, like a logo or a trademarked name. The letter is not served and is not a legal document that is filed with the court or any other governmental or law enforcement agency. It has no fine attached. While a cease and desist letter usually informs the recipient that legal action may be taken if the alleged infringement continues, the vast majority of cease and desist letters encourage the recipient to contact the sender to open a dialogue for informally resolving the concern.
Can you show us facts about the case?
Public court records can verify all of the information. Below is a timeline of the events in the case.
Summer of 2020 – Ghost Town starts selling a sub brand in grocery stores named MONTANA COFFEE COMPANY. MCT sends letter and never hears back, but the coffee seems to be removed from shelves.
April 13, 2023 – Letter sent to Ghost Town asking them to cease use of GLACIER® blend for coffee, telling them MCT will not seek damages if they do so, and asking them to call or write us back within 10 days. The letter is sent via FedEx, and is also emailed to the email addresses of Chad Kimm and Clarissa Englehart, which were listed on the Ghost Town website.
April 14, 2023 – FedEx delivers the letter, which is signed for by owner Chad Kimm.
May 3, 2023 – MCT sends a follow-up letter, informing Ghost Town that we haven’t heard from them, and if they don’t respond, MCT will be forced to file a lawsuit.
May 4, 2023 – FedEx delivers the letter, which is signed for by owner Clarissa Englehart.
May 31, 2023 – A lawsuit for trademark infringement was filed with the Butte Division of the Federal Court. The complaint does not specify a damages amount but asks the court to order Ghost Town to stop selling their GLACIER® blend, as it violates MCT’s trademark.
June 14, 2023 – The process server confirms that the lawsuit was properly served on Ghost Town on June 7, 2023.
June 29, 2023 – The court notifies MCT that Ghost Town didn’t file its required answer to the lawsuit by the deadline.
June 30, 2023 – MCT files a motion for Default Judgment with the court. The court grants the request and sends a notice to Ghost Town that unless they submit a motion to the court to explain why they didn’t appear for the lawsuit, they will forfeit their right to reopen the case.
August 7, 2023 – MCT files an application for entry of default judgment with the court. MCT does not ask for any damages but only asks the court to 1) order Ghost Town to stop selling their infringing GLACIER blend coffee, and 2) order Ghost Town to only pay for MCT’s legal costs for dealing with this matter. The application states that all of this could have been avoided if Ghost Town simply had answered calls and letters from the beginning, and that this will result in no profit to MCT whatsoever.
August 8, 2023 – The court agrees with MCT, and orders Ghost Town to pay MCT for their legal costs.
September 5, 2023 – MCT receives a call from an attorney who says he has just been hired by Ghost Town, says that Ghost Town shouldn’t have ignored the letters and lawsuit, but asks if MCT is open to a payment plan. MCT responds that we are happy to work with Ghost Town on a payment plan.
September 8, 2023 – MCT receives its only communication from Ghost Town, but offers no substantive suggestions for resolving the issues.
Remainder of September – Multiple calls and emails to Ghost Town’s attorney asking to follow up on details of a payment plan. The attorney stops responding.
October – Several more emails and voicemails to Ghost Town and attorney are made. No response.
November 8, 2023 – MCT files writ with the court, informing them that Ghost Town has yet to comply with the order, and the court issues an order for Ghost Town’s bank to pay the owed money to attorneys for MCT.
November 21, 2023 – Bank receives writ court order. MCT or its attorneys have yet to receive those funds.
December 8, 2023 – Ghost Town puts up GoFundMe, with false claims:
- “In the time it took us to find our own legal representation to help us navigate the situation, we received another notice that we owed them over $20K in legal fees and damages caused.” 1) The judgment was issued in August, almost 4 months after our initial letter was sent. 2) The judgment does not award damages, and only orders Ghost Town to pay for MCT’s legal fees because they never responded to our letters, or to the court.
- “In that time we had been doing all that we could do to rectify this.” – Ghost Town never responded to any letters, phone calls, or court summons. In addition, they continued selling Glacier blend into September, after the completion of the lawsuit. Despite repeated attempts to work out a payment plan, neither they nor their attorney ever responded.
- “We sent a personal letter directly to the company, we changed the name of the coffee, and tried to reason with them and did what they asked.” – Completely false. We never received a letter, phone call, or email from Ghost Town until after the lawsuit was over.
December 9, 2023 – MCT is deluged with threatening and harassing messages, presumably based on Ghost Town’s false information.
December 10, 2023 – MCT posts initial response to false allegations.
December 11, 2023 – MCT posts follow up.
January 8, 2024 – MCT received payment for court mandated legal fees.