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Small Roaster Beats Starbucks Over Their Charbucks Blend

from the cool-beans dept

If you're like me, you'd be surprised to learn how much legal action exists surrounding sweet, sweet java. See, I love coffee. It's what makes my morning routine work, like the on button of my entire day. On the other hand, once I've worked myself up into a caffeine-driven frenzy, I really hate to see overly-aggressive intellectual property actions. Yet that's exactly what I'm dealing with today, reading about how megalithic Starbucks went after a tiny New Hampshire coffee roaster over one of their blends, Charbucks.

"We're just a mom-and-pop little roastery," said Annie Clark, who with her husband, Jim, owns Black Bear Micro Roastery in Tuftonboro. They were sued in 2001 in federal district court in New York by Starbucks, which alleged Black Bear's use of the name "Charbucks" infringed, blurred and tarnished its famous trademarks.
So why did Black Bear offer a brew called Charbucks? Well, apparently there's something of a public perception that Starbucks roasted beans appeared to be abnormally dark in color, indicating something or other about their quality. In other words, it was a gentle jab at a Goliath-like company from a roasting David. The name only worked to begin with as a distinction between the quality of Starbucks beans and Black Bear beans. That didn't stop Starbucks from suing for trademark infringement, however, and then following up with an appeal when Black Bear won round one in court. Fortunately, the appeals court agreed with the original ruling.
The appeals court noted that "one of the reasons Black Bear used the term 'Charbucks' was the public perception that Starbucks roasted its beans unusually darkly." But it agreed with the district court in finding minimal similarity and weak evidence of actual association between the brands.

"Their sales haven't been hurt," Clark said, noting that Black Bear's haven't changed much over the years. "Their growth hasn't been hurt."
In other words, no harm no foul, particularly given that the name of the brew required customers to make a distinction between the brands. Starbucks has since offered some quotes to sound reasonable about their claim, and indeed it appears they were not seeking any monetary damages, but this was still a silly move to begin with. No need to jump at shadows, Starbucks. Perhaps you've been drinking too much of your own coffee.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2013 @ 8:41pm


    is long-time in Seattle slang for the evil empire, who has long served over-roasted, too-bitter beans.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Helly Potta, Nov 21st, 2013 @ 9:07pm

    In China

    In China there is a chain called Starfucks. They sell coffee, not fucks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Helly Potta, Nov 21st, 2013 @ 9:09pm

    Re: Charbucks

    People don't go to Starbucks for the coffee, they go for the ambiance, good furniture and friendly staff, which most other chains and most small coffeehouses do not have, at least not outside of Seattle.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2013 @ 11:17pm

    Too dark

    Starbucks coffee is an overly dark roast. I like light roasts. Light roasts are next to impossible to buy in the USA. I usually wind up buying beans in the raw and roasting them in a frying pan.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    JackOfShadows (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 2:45am

    Re: Too dark

    Before Starbucks showed up on the scene, I was getting both dark and light roasts in the mail from Gevalia. I was the only guy on my destroyer who got coffee delivered, so I was real popular when the ship ran out of the regular stuff.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 2:47am

    I love Starbucks they give the best handjobs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    MacCruiskeen, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 4:48am

    The first time I heard the term "Charbucks" was from legendary coffee diety George Howell. He used it in interviews back in the early 90s when S-bucks was expanding into the Boston area for the first time, and Howell's Coffee Connection was standing in its way. Sadly, Howell eventually sold out (for a reported $45 million) and soon Coffee Connection was no more. (Damn you Howard Schultz, Damn you to Hell!)

    I would totally buy a coffee called "charbucks." I would not be confused about where it came from.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    mcinsand, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 5:07am

    Starbucks 'Coffee'

    For people that like the flavor of coffee, rather than having egos tied up in it, Starbucks is a nonstarter. There is good strong coffee, and then there is Starbucks. There are really good dark roasts, and then there is Starbucks. I've tried to guess what the secret to their signature flavor might be: is it rinsing the coffee through an ashtray or a gas station urinal?

    Seriously, I think the coffee taste is just great marketing. No-one with working tastebuds is going to want to taste a $3 Starbucks black coffee, so you pay $5-7 for a donkeyload of flavoring, caramel, and whipped cream to cover it up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 5:30am

    Re: In China

    Hmm, so you could say they just don't give, or sell, a fuck then?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Transmitte (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 6:52am

    I mean, if you're into burnt stuff...

    Being an ex employee of SB's, they just about killed my like of coffee. They burn their coffee IMO, it's way too roasted and ultra bitter. Even the espresso shots by themselves were too strong.

    Most anyone I ever came across liked them for the name and what you may call ambiance(Yes, people get all uppity when they are carrying a Grande Latte for some fool hardy reason), and occasionally a specific latte. I've found more to like in local coffee shops that have better staff and better atmosphere than any SB's I've ever been in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    RyanNerd (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 6:53am

    Starbucks jumping at shadows

    Just like this guy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 7:19am

    Re: Re: Charbucks

    they go for the ambiance, good furniture and friendly staff,
    I can only assume starbucks are different in Seattle since I've never been there. I do know that starbucks I've been into in other parts of the world have little or none of these things...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 9:37am

    Re: Re: Charbucks

    In large swaths of the country, there is almost no good coffee to be had at all. Starbucks coffee isn't great, but it's better than the alternatives in those areas. I understand their success there.

    What I don't understand, and will probably never understand, is how so many Starbucks can stay in business in the parts of the country which are blessed to have really excellent coffee available. Places like Seattle, for instance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Alt0, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 9:48am

    Im with you Tim

    Coffee is my morning ON button too :)

    I think Starbucks coffee tastes like there's dirt in it...
    Wawa coffee is OK
    Personally, I grind beans at home.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Ha Ha, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 1:22pm

    Re: Re: Re: Charbucks

    @ John Fenderson

    What's really funny about what you said is

    A. you think Starbucks is popular in Seattle.

    B. you think there is good coffee outside of Seattle.

    Mr Ha Ha, from California.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 2:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Charbucks

    There is no arguing that there are an awful lot of Starbucks in Seattle. Not as many as in some other places, but still. They're selling coffee to somebody.

    There is great coffee available outside of Seattle. In fact, the top five best coffee places I've ever been in aren't even in the state of Washington. However, I'm not so sure there is any great coffee outside of the Pacific Northwest at all. At least, I haven't found it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Otto, Nov 24th, 2013 @ 4:53pm

    Coffee is bad for you

    I would like to point out that coffee is bad for your health in a number of ways.

    For instance, caffeine is ototoxic -- it's toxic to your ears. It raises bloodpressure. It induces stress. It usually contains lots of pesticides. It raises cancer risk. Etc etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2015 @ 11:59am

    Can get a latte machine, espresso grinder and 96 flavors

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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