Starbucks & ‘Charbucks’; protecting a brand

The coffee retailer Starbucks has always vigorously protected its brand name.  While this is a wise business decision, they sometimes go too far.  In this case, a small roaster in New Hampshire (Wolfe’s Borough Coffee) created a blend they called “Charbucks”, referencing the darkness of the blend.  Starbucks went after the small company and lost.

Now, according to Bloomberg, the case “was revived after a federal appeals court vacated part of a ruling favoring the smaller company”.  You can read the story at: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=a5LBaVSt8NkQ&pos=7.  Also visit the FindLaw site for case summary and links to the full decision.

Starbucks has taken legal action against dozens of alleged infringers of their IP.  Perhaps the most ridiculous was an attempt in 2006 to claim ownership of the term “double shot”.  Matthew Williams (“I live coffee”) commented on http://www.coffeegeek.com that:

“I don’t think Starbucks (or any other company) should be allowed to trademark the name of a particular product that is based on a common usage idiom (units of measure in this case). Imagine a company making hotdogs trademarking “footlong” or a snack maker trademarking “cupcake.””

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

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