coffee history and innovation

(Not So) Dumb Starbucks

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Feb 15, 2014    •    1513 Views

At New York’s 2nd Ave Deli, you can order the Instant Heart Attack and/or the Triple Bypass Sandwich. Listed on the menu like this (below), the sandwiches are trademarked.

Trademark sandwiches intellectual property

When the 2nd Ave. Deli trademarked its heart attack sandwiches, they consulted a judge. Because the Heart Attack Grill of Las Vegas threatened a trademark infringement suit, the Deli wanted to be sure it had a right to use cardiac themed names. The opinion from the US District Court was yes.  No one will confuse the Las Vegas triple bypass burger and fries made from lard with food from a kosher deli.

Similarly, I do not think people are going to confuse Starbucks and Dumb Starbucks. Created by Comedy Central’s Nathan Fielder, the Dumb Starbucks store exactly reproduces everything in a real Starbucks except most labels say Dumb. So we have Dumb Blond Brew, Dumb Frappuccinos and Wuppy Duppy Lattes…you get it.

But Starbucks appears not to have gotten it. Probably not knowing whether to smile or sue, they must have been pleased when the store was closed by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health for operating without a permit. Before the shutdown, lines snaked around the block with hour plus waiting times for the free coffee.

In an FAQ booklet, Dumb Starbucks said that, as a parody, their name was legal. The LA Times, though, in an article called “Brew ha-ha,” quoted an attorney who said Dumb Starbucks “is copyright and trademark infringement on steroids.” Meanwhile Starbucks responded with, “We are aware of the store. It is not affiliated with Starbucks. We are evaluating next steps, and while we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark.”

A trademark dispute is all about intellectual property rights. Although Apple’s logo, the shape of a glass Coca-Cola bottle and the Triple Bypass Sandwich are someone’s intellectual property, still, their ownership has limits. Debated by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, questions about whether and how long we can own the intellectual property we create has been timeless.

Sources and Resources: You can read more about the 2nd Ave, Deli lawsuit in this Reuters article while here is the actual decision and a menu from the 2nd Avenue Deli. Somewhat similar, the details on Dumb Starbucks were presented by the LA Times and Freakonomics and here, we looked at the red shoe sole trademark fight between YSL and Louboutin.

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