Starbucks/Charbucks: What's In A Name?

To consumer companies, brand names are everything. And the big guy rarely hesitates to go after the little guy.

One of our favourite examples: there once was a walk-in gelato shop in Austin called Babbo that was forced to change its name by Mario Batali’s super-delicious, super-expensive New York eatery Babbo. You know, in case you might confuse the two.

A similar “David-and-Goliath” tale caught the eye of Zach Lowe at The Am Law Daily.  

In 1997, New Hampshire coffee company Black Bear Micro Roastery introduced a dark-roasted blend it named “Charbucks” then “Mister Charbucks.” And the litigation began, with Starbucks claiming Black Bear was infringing the company’s copyright, dilutes the company’s brand and disparages the Starbucks product.

A lower court tossed out Starbucks’ claims, but the 2nd Circuit revived them in part yesterday, saying the Charbucks name could “dilute” the brand. 

Black Bear cannot match Starbucks’ manpower — the opinion noted “Black Bear hired some part-time employees, such as ‘one girl who comes in two days a week and helps with packaging.'” — but they seem to be hanging in in the lawsuit.

So the litigation will go on. Whether David of Goliath will prevail remainds to be seen.

Read Lowe’s whole story here. Bloomberg provides additional case details here.

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