Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Starbucks Bullies Small Business: Coffee Versus Canines

Oct. 9, 2012 - Coffee giant Starbucks is doing its best to intimidate a small business in a Chicago suburb. Starbucks says that the business is violating its trademark rights. The name of the business is "Starbarks Dog Daycare & Boarding" (Starbarks Dog Inc.). Starbarks, unlike Starbucks, offers cage-free dog boarding in Algonquin, IL. Unlike Starbucks, they do not sell coffee.

Starbarks owner Andrea McCarthy-Grzybek told Chicago News Bench today that they are "still in talks" with Starbucks. She says she hopes to settle the dispute out of court in order to avoid a costly legal battle. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that a Starbucks spokesman said last Friday that they also would like to settle the matter out of court, saying "we have a legal obligation to protect our intellectual property . . . in order to retain our exclusive rights to it." 

Starbarks received the request to change its name back in April, reports the Northwest Herald, "in a letter from Anessa Owen Kramer of Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn LLP, which represents Starbucks Corp. in intellectual matters. Kramer wrote that Starbucks Corp. requests Starbarks cease and desist use of the term Starbarks as a business name, amend the Starbarks Dog Inc. entity name with the state of Illinois, discontinue use of the domain name StarbarksDog.com, and cease and desist all use of the current Starbarks logo." 

Of course, if Starbucks is not satisfied with the ongoing negotiations, they have powerful lawyers and an endless supply of money with which to crush little non-competing Starbarks in court. McCarthy-Grzybek is well aware of that fact.

Starbarks Dog Daycare (Facebook)
This action by Starbucks is, in my opinion, absurd. I have great respect for trademarks and other intellectual property. I am always careful to capitalize trade names such as Kleenex, Coke and others. What Starbucks is doing, however, seems to be an overzealous reaction to what they wrongly see as infringement.
 The only thing that the names "Starbarks" and "Starbucks" have in common is the "star" part of their respective names. The dog care company and the coffee seller are in completely different, non-competing industries. Suppose you had a boat-making company, and you called it "Starboard Boat Company." Would Starbucks be correct to harass you and force you to change your name? Of course not. So why is it right for the global java monger to harass a dog care company called "Starbarks?"

Starbucks is not the only company that bullies small, non-competing companies in hyper-defensive legal actions, of course. Back in 1976, a presidential election year, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter came through Madison, Wisconsin. The national press followed, naturally, and that's when trouble started for a local restaurant on Washington Avenue called "The Washington Post." It was a great restaurant. One of the Washington Post newspaper reporters, however, told his editor about it and soon a cease and desist letter was sent to the restaurant. Change your name or else, basically. They cleverly changed their name to "The Washington Host," and the matter was settled.

The case of Starbucks and Starbarks seems to begin at a point similar to where the Washington Host story ended. The name is not the same.

It's as though a little company called "Starbucks Dog Daycare" was told to change and did so, to "Starbarks Dog Daycare." That's already what they're called, so Starbucks seems to be engaging in aggravated douchebaggery.

A nice blue?
The full logo, of course, is more than just the words "Starbarks Dog Daycare." There is the matter of the green boder, two stars, the white and black. Yes, it does kind of look like Starbucks, but it's not exact, and only an idiot would mistake it for Starbucks.

A nice red?
Still, my own advice to Starbarks would be this: Change the stars to something else, such as dots or dog heads or whatever. Change the color from green to something else. A nice blue, perhaps, or red. That might satisfy the bastards in Seattle. Maybe.

The Starbarks Facebook page has a post that says, "We at Starbarks Dog Daycare & Boarding are disappointed to announce that the coffee giant has sent us a cease and desist letter. They are demanding us to stop using our logo and the Starbarks Dog name. They are saying it violates their trademarked logo and name also it is likely to cause confusion among consumers. As disappointed as we are of their demands, it will not affect the day to day activities at Starbarks Dog Inc. We remain the same caring and loving facility for your dogs. I will keep you all informed on this issue."
McCarthy-Grzybek is also a devoted painter of dogs. You can see them at starbarksdog.com/Dog_Art and also at starbarksdogart.weebly.com/gallery. Of course, if Starbucks wins the trademark dispute, those web addresses will probably have to change.

Full disclosure: As I write this post, I am sitting in a Starbucks drinking their crappy, bitter coffee. I only come in for the free wi-fi. The music they play sucks, too.