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Court rules 'Charbucks' only minimally similar to Starbucks

Denver Starbucks coffee aficionados won't be confused by New Hampshire-based Black Bear Roastery's 'Mr. Charbucks' blend of dark roast coffee, according to the ruling by a three judge panel of the New York Appeals Court. The Court upheld a previous finding by U.S. District Court in 2011 that the use of the name 'Charbucks" was not a trademark infringement of the well-known Starbucks coffee brand in a trademark dispute that began in 2001.

Starbucks had charged that the 'Mr. Charbucks" name was too similar to the name 'Starbucks" and use of the name by Black Bear Roastery was damaging the Starbucks brand. A large part of the Starbucks case was a 600-person survey in which people responded that they associated the name 'Charbucks" with Starbucks. The Court found that argument flawed in that in the survey, 'Charbucks" was presented out of context and isolated.

The Court found that only 4.4 percent surveyed responded that 'Charbucks" would be found at Starbucks or at a coffeehouse, while most responded that it would be found at a grocery store. This led to the finding that there was no significant crossover of the products in the minds of consumers. The Court did note that a reason that the name 'Charbucks" was chosen by Black Bear Roastery was because Starbucks is seen as selling a darker roast coffee.

Companies that sell a well-known or high-end product will sometimes bring litigation against competing companies that use similar sounding names for similar products on the basis that it damages the reputations of their brands to be associated with lesser products and is confusing to consumers. Protection of intellectual property, such as trademark, copyright and trade secrets, is a growing and complex legal field.

Source: Huffington Post, "'Charbucks' Not A Trademark Violation Despite Starbucks Appeal, Court Rules", Jonathan Stempel, November 15, 2013

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