Trademark Infringement & Starbucks: A Twist on Tarnishment

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Starbucks is a well known, international purveyor of coffee products, with thousands of stores throughout the world. Starbucks Corporation was formed in 1985 in Washington State, after the original founders had been in business for themselves since 1971 in the Seattle Pike’s Place Market. Under a traditional trademark analysis, Starbucks has spent a substantial amount of money to market its coffee products worldwide (over one hundred thirty-six million dollars worth from 2000-2003). One should not use a trademark similar to “Starbucks” without expecting trouble. In 2004, Wolfe’s Borough Coffee, a small coffee manufacturer that distributes its brands in a store in New Hampshire and through some New England supermarkets, was sued by Starbucks in the southern district of New York for trademark infringement and dilution under the Lanham Act and state law. Wolfe’s Borough Coffee was trading with two allegedly infringing names: “Mr. Charbucks” and “Mister Charbucks,” both similar to the trademark “Starbucks” used by the famous coffee house of the same name. Yet, Starbucks lost in district court on all of its claims, and lost a second time after an appeal to the Second Circuit returned the matter to the federal district court.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Timothy Faith | Attorney Advertising

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