Designer cookiesThe cookies are rectangular in shape and dipped in chocolate diagonally. Each is individually wrapped in clear plastic, crimped on both ends and packaged in gold-tone bags or boxes.
prompt copycat suit
At issue are similar chocolate
dipped shortbread treats
By Debra Barayuga
No, these are not the macadamia nut shortbread cookies, the best-selling product produced by Big Island Candies. This version is sold by the Cookie Corner, which has 12 retail locations around Oahu.
The similarities are too much of a coincidence, say the owners of Big Island Candies. They filed suit in U.S. District Court last week against the Cookie Corner and general partners Jim McArthur and Angus McKibbin.
By its actions, Cookie Corner has "passed off" its macadamia-nut shortbread cookies as those of Big Island Candies cookies, with the intent to profit off Big Island Candies' "hard-earned goodwill, name recognition and reputation," the suit contends.
Cookie consumer Lori Ah Sam of Honolulu couldn't tell the difference.
"Oh, Big Island Cookies," she said when she first saw the individually wrapped, chocolate-covered cookie made by Cookie Corner.
She would not have known one from the other because of their nearly identical appearance, said Sam, a state employee.
Big Island Candies was established in 1977 as a one-person operation with the sole purpose of creating the finest macadamia nut chocolates and cookies found anywhere in the world, according to its Web site.
Since 1985, Big Island Candies has marketed its macadamia nut shortbread cookies to customers in Hawaii, the mainland and worldwide.
All of its products, which include chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies, brownies and chocolate confections are made at its Hilo factory and are available only at its Hilo factory and retail showroom at 585 Hinano St., the DFS Galleria Waikiki, via mail order or via its Web site at http://www.bigislandcandies.com.
Customers have come to associate the overall impression created by the unique shape, design and packaging of Big Island Candies with the "consistent high-quality and delicious taste" of its products, the suit said.
"Big Island Candies is not against fair competition," says Allan Ikawa, president and founder of the company in a written statement. "However, we are committed to pursuing protection from this infringement because we believe we must protect our loyal customers from confusing marketing tactics and to protect our own hard-earned reputation."
McKibbin, who opened the Cookie Corner with Iolani classmate McArthur "on a handshake" 20 years ago, was surprised at the lawsuit, calling it "unfortunate."
"We started dipping 15 years ago and we've been dipping chocolate shortbread for 15 years," McKibbin said. And while they have been dipping their cookies in only one direction, which happens to be the same direction as Big Island Candies, "Our cookie is different, our packaging is different. We're proud of the Cookie Corner and we have our own identity."
Try comparing a box of their cookies and a box of Big Island Candies side-by-side and see the difference, he says.
While it's been tough in this economy to be a successful business, "we're a very ethical, fair company," McKibbin said. "My partner and I have been bakers for 20 years and putting out great cookies for our customers, and providing great customer service is the most important thing to us, day in and day out."
Cookie Corner welcomes competition and has worked alongside competitors such as Mauna Loa, he said.
But Cookie Corner's macadamia nut shortbread cookies are "virtually identical" to the cookies sold by Big Island Candies, from its packaging and labeling, its shape and the manner in which it is dipped into the chocolate to the different flavors available, the suit said.
Even Cookie Corner's use of the phrases "dipped in a bath of velvety smooth chocolate," "baked a golden brown," and "sweet confectioners coating" is identical to descriptions found in Big Island Candies' catalogs, the suit said.
Big Island Candies is seeking damages and relief from the courts, including ordering Cookie Corner to stop engaging in unfair competition and deceptive trade practices and that its packaging, labels, signs, advertisements and other equipment used to produce the copycat cookies be destroyed.