Coffee giant Starbucks is now burning legal calories sending cease-and-desist letters to a bar that serves a "Frappicino" beer.
The Exit 6 Pub and Brewery, located in the St. Louis suburb of Cottleville, responded to Starbucks' letter with a tongue-in-cheek missive, stating that they had renamed the offending beer the "F Word," reports Slate.
While there's no lawsuit pending, what should small business owners due to protect themselves from corporate trademark muscling?
Brewery Gives 'F Word' to Starbucks
Starbucks sent this cease-and-desist letter, dated December 9, 2013, demanding that Exit 6's owner Jeff Britton stop using the name "Frappicino" with his beer and remove any references to it from associated websites.
Britton responded by sending his own letter, informing Starbucks' counsel that a total of three Exit 6 customers had ordered "Frappicinos" and that it made the staff feel like "bad people." Britton also sarcastically promised to stop production of the pub's "Starbuck-McDonalds-Coca Cola-Marlboro Honey Lager."
On the one hand, Starbucks' request is fairly ridiculous. There is almost no way that its trademark had confused anyone at Exit 6 into believing Starbucks was associated with the brewery. Minimally similar things like the "Frappicino" beer and "Frappuccino" coffee are not the makings of a successful trademark suit.
On the other hand, Exit 6 probably did mean to evoke something like coffee with the name "Frappicino," for a "stout-style beer" -- a style which often has notes like coffee or chocolate.
How Can Your Business Avoid Trademark Issues?
Business owners like Britton may be right to be exasperated with Starbucks' attempt to enforce its trademark on a tiny brewery so far out of competition with the coffee giant, but the business itself isn't blameless.
While its likely not infringement to use a name that's close to something like "Frappuccino," you should strive to have your product names be distinctive. Try to make your mark:
- Unique/Arbitrary. Using a made up word like "Tetris" to describe a game is a good example.
- Suggestive. Britton's use of "Frappuccino" is suggestive of coffee much like the name "Morning Brew Stout" would be.
- Descriptive. Calling a beer "Exit 6 Coffee Porter" would be pretty lame, but it would still make it a distinctive trademark since it identifies its source.
Small business owners don't even need to register the trademark for it to be enforceable, just using it on products will suffice. For more guidance about trademark issues, you may want to consult an experienced trademarks lawyer near you.
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