Andrea McCarthy-Grzybek and her husband run a daycare and boarding center for dogs called Starbarks.
Starbucks Coffee says their logo and the one used by Starbarks are too similar, and want the Grzybeks to abandoned their name, logo, and website StarbarksDog.com.
Starbucks spokesman Zack Hutson said that while the coffee company prefers to reach an “amicable” resolution out of court, “we have a legal obligation to protect our intellectual property in order to retain our exclusive rights to it.”
A closer look reveals that the logo used by Starbarks resembles the Starbuck’s Green logo used from 1987–2010, used now only as a secondary logo.
Starbuck’s current logo was redesigned in 2011, and looks nothing like the logo used by Starbarks.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports Andrea’s dog day care and boarding business opened in March in a refurbished house. Its cage-free, homey interior was beginning to draw a loyal clientele, and then the letter arrived from Starbucks.
Andrea says changing their company name and logo would create a huge financial burden. “We’re a small place,” she said. “Good lord, I’m only paying the bills here.”
Andrea and her husband have already spent about $2,000 on legal costs, and Andrea isn’t sure how much more she can take.
“If we lose, we’d have to pay their lawyers, and that’s the part that’s scary,” she said.
“Can Starbucks seriously be more petty?!” wrote one supporter in a comment on Starbarks’ Facebook page.
“I love the name. Everyone loves it. It’s clever,” Andrea said. “It’s not like we sell coffee or anything they do.”
Andrea offered to change the green in the logo to yellow and the stars to paws, but Starbucks refused her concession.
Sun-Times writer Stephanie Zimmerman points out that there have been other David-vs.-Goliath fights over trademarks over the years, with most turning on one of two legal theories: that the newer business is creating confusion in the marketplace or that it is diluting the power of the original trademark.
Dilution is the newer of the two legal tactics. And as might be expected with such a gray area, court cases have gone either way, said Georgetown University law professor Rebecca Tushnet, an expert in trademark law and a visiting professor at the University of Chicago.
Zimmerman cites an example regarding a dog toy called “Chewy Vuitton” that defeated a challenge from designer Louis Vuitton Malletier. But lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret successfully sued a sex-toy shop called Victor’s Little Secret.
Tushnet said that because Starbarks has offered to make substantial changes to its logo, it would be a stretch to say that it dilutes Starbucks’ brand.
But Zimmerman notes corporations stipulate that dilution is like an infection, and if you give a pass to one business, you open the doors to all sorts of copycats.
“Often this is not a battle that the small businesses can afford to fight in court. They can only fight in the court of public opinion,” Tushnet said.