Starbucks Battles Local Roaster Over “Charbucks”

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The legal ping pong between Starbucks and a small New Hampshire coffee roaster continues after a federal appeals court vacated part of a ruling in favor of the Black Bear Micro Roastery last week.  

Starbucks sued the family-owned roaster in 2001 over trademark infringement, claiming Black Bear was misleading consumers and diluting the Starbucks brand with its “Mister Charbucks” and “Charbucks” roasts. The case was originally dismissed in June 2008 by a US District Judge and appealed by Starbucks.[more]

Black Bear, and its parent company Wolfe’s Borough Coffee Inc., claims the “Charbucks” and “Mister Charbucks” names relate to the “charred” taste of the two blends. But they do admit the homage to Starbucks. According to Bloomberg, the judges did not believe that the naming was an act of “bad faith” that intentionally led to any customer confusion. A lawyer for Wolfe’s Borough Coffee agrees, saying the Starbucks brand has not been diluted “in any way, shape or form.”

Starbucks, on the other hand, does not share that view. “Black Bear did not choose the term ‘Charbucks’ by accident, but with Starbucks in mind,” said spokeswoman May Kulthol in an e-mail to Bloomberg. “We always prefer to resolve trademark disputes informally and amicably whenever possible.”

Does a David vs. Goliath battle ever benefit either respective brand? Is Starbucks insulting the intelligence of consumers, like Porsche, by underestimating their ability to differentiate between the two brands?

Regardless of the outcome, more people know about Black Bear Micro Roastery now thanks to “Charbucks.” And Starbucks.

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