Global coffee giant Starbucks Corporation (NASDAQ:SBUX) sent a stern letter to Missouri pub owner Jeff Britton in December, to which Britton offered a smart, satirical reply just before 2014.
Starbucks’ lawyer complained that Britton had appropriated a Starbucks trademark – its icy Frappuccino coffee – by selling a stout beer dubbed a "Frappicino."
Consumers “may mistakenly believe that Exit 6 or this beer product is affiliated with or licensed by Starbucks Coffee Co., when they are not,” wrote attorney Anessa Owen Kramer on behalf of Starbucks, in the original cease-and-desist notice. Britton claims to have sold three of those beers for $6 in total profit, and he sent a check to Starbucks for that amount.
We reached out to Starbucks for its view on the letter after it became all the buzz online. Edited excerpts from the email exchange with Starbucks spokeswoman Laurel Hardy follow.
What will Starbucks or its counsel do if the addressee fails to act as requested in the letter?
In this case, we respectfully requested that Exit 6 Pub and Brewery refrain from using the term “Frappiccino,” which differs by only one letter from our Frappuccino product. We appreciate that Exit 6 Pub and Brewery respected our request. Trademark disputes are handled on a case-by-case basis, and we always prefer to resolve them informally and amicably. In fact, virtually all of our trademark disputes are acknowledged and respected without any legal action.
How many similar cease-and-desist notices does Starbucks send out yearly related to its products, say, for 2012 or 2013? How many cease-and-desist letters has Starbucks sent out related to its Frappuccino product?
Trademark law requires all companies, including Starbucks, to consistently protect its brand and marks. I don’t have that number, but I can tell you the vast majority of trademark disputes are handled informally and respected without any legal action.
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We respectfully asked Exit 6 Pub and Brewery to refrain from using the term “Frappiccino,” including notifying Untappd to remove the referenced listing from its website. We appreciate that Exit 6 Pub and Brewery respected our request.
How much has Starbucks won in litigation or other legal action related to violations of its trademarks, in its latest fiscal year or quarter?
This is not about compensation for us and no compensation was ever requested of Exit 6 Pub and Brewery. Virtually all of our trademark disputes are acknowledged and respected without any legal action. Our intent is to follow trademark law and consistently uphold the integrity of our intellectual property.
In its latest fiscal year, Starbucks earned $14.9 billion in revenue. In its 2012 annual report, the company counts the Frappuccino trademark as one of its trademarks of “material importance,” alongside the Starbucks logo, its Seattle’s Best Coffee motto, and its Tazo tea.
Intellectual property lawyer and letter author Kramer, of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, didn’t respond to requests for comment from IBTimes.