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.