Starbuck Loses Trademark Lawsuit

trademark, patent, intellectual property, Starbuck, Starbucks, brand, business, companyIn a legal case of David and Goliath, a small NH coffee shop has prevailed over a trademark infringement lawsuit filed against them by corporate giant Starbucks.

Jim and Annie Clark own and operate the Black Bear Micro Roastery, located in Tuftonboro, NH. One of the coffee blends offered to their customers is called “Charbucks.” The Clark’s beginning offering Charbucks, the darkest roast of coffee they offer, in 1997.

Starbucks sent the couple a cease and desist order to stop using the Charbucks name in promoting its coffee, but the Clarks refused. In 2001, Starbucks sued the Black Bear, but the lawsuit was dismissed by a judge in 2005 after a two day trial. The judge ruled that there was a very weak similarity between the Starbucks trademark and the Charbucks brand.

Starbucks appealed the decision and the case was heard by the second U.S. Court Circuit Court of Appeals. Lawyers for Starbucks argued that the district court had erred in its judgment of a weak similarity.

In its decision, the Appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision. The justices stated that although “one of the reasons Black Bear used the term ‘Charbucks’ was the public perception that Starbucks roasted its beans unusually darkly,” it too found very weak similarity between the two brands.

The Clarks were pleased by the recent ruling. In an interview with ABC News, Annie Clark pointed out that Starbucks sales have in no way been damaged by the sale of her company’s Charbucks coffees.

Lawyers for Starbucks disagree and will determine what, if any, continued course of action they decide to take. One option would be to file an appeal with the United States Supreme Court.

Trademarking a product can be critical to a company’s success in business. Consulting with an Illinois business law attorney right from the initial state of your business plan will help avoid potentially complicated, and costly, future issues.