An L.A. based coffee shop has decided to call itself “Dumb Starbucks” and is claiming that it can do so with impunity as the use of the name constitutes fair use and parody of the Starbucks name. See the Wall Street Journal story here.
If I were a betting man I would not wager against the corporate caffeinated behemoth in what will probably be one of the most quickly filed lawsuits in history. (Disclosure: I’m having one of their delicious brewed coffees right now which may be affecting my disposition on the matter).
The dispute between Starbucks vs. Dumb Starbucks will most likely be determined under Trademark law under what is called the Lanham Act. The Lanham Act (Named after Tex. Rep. Fritz Lanham) is the federal law that governs federal trademark law (Note: Unlike Copyright you can register a trademark with a state government or with both the federal and a state government) While fair use is a concept in trademark law it isn’t likely to help Dumb Starbucks out too much – since one of the standards under the Lanham Act is that the use of the logo would not cause confusion amongst consumers – here that certainly is a possibility even if slight. The other main concern a court would have is that the operators of Dumb Starbucks are using Starbucks Logo to turn a profit and compete in the same business. The operators may be subject to claims for dilution or tarnishment – this is especially true where a logo is already famous when a party begins to use the logo as is the case here. Another story from USA Today – with better pictures here. A history of the Starbucks logo through the last four decades is located here.
Update: It appears the Dumb Starbucks store was a hoax put on my Comedy Central comdeian Nathan Fielder.