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Cronut Mania Spawns Imitators and a Trademark Rush

Friday, 7 Jun 2013 | 3:13 PM ET
The Cronut.
Source: Niko Triantafillou
The Cronut.

The Cronut has gained a cult following since Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York began selling the trademarked croissant-doughnut hybrid last month. Several bakeries with trademark hopes of their own have moved to capitalize on the hype, launching their own versions.

Robert Cabeca, owner of Chocolate Crust in Washington, began offering his "doissant" last weekend.

"In the industry, it really is a form of flattery to the original creator when someone else tries to make something someone else has made," he said.

Other copycats have sprung up in Australia and Los Angeles, but Cabeca said he doesn't think of his creation as a copycat. The item is so popular that he made a double batch—about 200—Thursday and planned a triple batch for National Doughnut Day on Friday.

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"People have been buying [doissants] by the dozen," he said, adding that the number people can buy is currently unlimited. Cabeca's doissants are $4.50 each.

After toying with a similar idea about a year ago, Circle City Sweets in Indianapolis started offering its version of Cronuts, which it also calls a doissant, last week.

Owner Cindy Hawkins said her earlier attempt at a fried whole croissant was an "epic fail" and resulted in a sweet that was "just too big and raw in the middle." But she perfected the recipe, Hawkins said, and customers have loved it. Circle Sweets also will be wholesaling the dough to a local restaurant.

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In addition to the lines snaking from Ansel's store in the SoHo neighborhood, the Cronut has given rise to a secondary market on Craigslist where desperate consumers plea for deliveries.

In one classified, a poster writes, "three (3) 20-somethings at a vaguely relevant tech non-profit in 'west soho' in desperate need of the memerific nyc baked good du jour - cronuts. willing to pay up to … $30 or in a more meaningful metric twice our hourly wage per cronut. those w access to doissants plz be in touch but can't promise anything."

Another Cronut capitalist asks, "Would you like to try Dominique Ansel's famous cronuts without having to get up at 5:00 in the morning to get them?" The poster sells them at $25 each—five times the usual price tag.

The Trademark Rush

With Cronut's popularity being trumpeted from coast to coast, why aren't even more bakeries jumping on the brand?

The answer lies in the trademark that Dominque Ansel received May 19 for "Cronut," currently registered with the Patent and Trademark Office and in more than five other countries—a move his lawyer suggested when he trademarked his bakery's name.

Seeing the lock that Ansel has on Cronut, doissant makers are jockeying for their own piece of the name-pastry market.

Hawkins at City Circle has contacted a lawyer about securing "Doissant" and is waiting to hear back. Obtaining this trademark would give the bakery "the ability to use that name any time we wanted to," she said.

"I think it's somewhere around $500, which I'd be willing to stomach," said Hawkins, referring to the process' cost. "We could justify that with a couple days of doissant sales."

Cabeca is also considering trademarking doissant but doesn't want to retain an attorney. "Since the name is in use for so many people, I'm still deciding what to do with it," he said. "If I do decide to do it, I'll probably do it within the next week."

One reason he is wary of applying for a trademark is the potential cost of protecting the name if someone else decides to use it. If someone else does beat him to the trademark, he said he will just rename his dessert.

One bakery owner in the Columbus, Ohio, area has taken the application plunge and received a trademark May 29 for "doughssant." Owner Rosario Auddino told the local ABC-TV station that he came up with the idea of crossing a croissant and a doughnut in 1991.

"You have to protect the idea," he said. "It's been 21 years we've been making them, and then now all at once, this craze is coming, so you just want to be careful."

Cronut Maker Responds

With several imitators on the scene, what should the Cronut inventor do?

"They would have to go to a federal court and say that the doissant maker is infringing on their Cronut," said Brett Heavner, a partner at the Washington branch of the law firm Finnegan Henderson Farabow Garrett & Dunner, which specializes in intellectual property. "They would have to prove to the court that the Cronut and doissant are so similar in sound, meaning, appearance ... that consumers would be confused or that they're somehow related."

Even without officially applying for a trademark, companies are entitled to what's called common law rights by using the name limited to their local area, Heavner said.

Ansel considers imitation is a form of flattery … to a point.

"I'm always flattered to be an inspiration, but my hope is that chefs get inspired to create unique items of their own and not copy so obviously," he said. "I don't think any respectable chef would feel comfortable doing so."

But, the person who started this trademark rush, Ansel's attorney, views the situation differently, according to the chef. "My lawyer is less amused and will be taking action as she sees fit," he said.

By CNBC's Katie Little. Follow her @KatieLittle

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com.

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