Legal News: Will Starbucks Take “Dumb Starbucks” To Court?

Article By Emily Greenhouse, The New Yorker, 2/15/2014

Last weekend, a pop-up shop called Dumb Starbucks appeared in Los Feliz, Los Angeles, five miles east of the Hollywood Hills. It seemed like any other Starbucks store, but it gave away “dumb” versions of items sold by the Seattle-based coffee giant: Dumb Iced Vanilla Latte and Dumb Blonde Roast. For full effect, there were compact discs with names like “Dumb Jazz Standards,” “Dumb Taste of Cuba,” and “Dumb Nora (sic) Jones” by the registers. Californians waited in line for hours for the “horrible coffee,” while Starbucks grew flustered at the use of its “protected trademark.” Before the caffeine buzz could wear off, the loud voices of the social-media sphere started wondering: Who put up Dumb Starbucks? And was it a legitimate political statement about consumerism—perhaps an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street—or a well-executed viral marketing stunt?

Article By Jolie Lee, USA Today, 2/11/2014

UPDATE: Late Monday afternoon, the Los Angeles Health Department shut down Dumb Starbucks shortly after Comedy Central comedian Nathan Fielder revealed he was behind the parody Starbucks store. 

Starbucks said it is considering how to proceed in response to a parody coffee shop called Dumb Starbucks.  The Dumb Starbucks store in Los Angeles is very similar to Starbucks except it has the word “dumb” in front of it.  In an email to USA TODAY Network on Monday, Starbucks said Dumb Starbucks 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,” according to Starbuck’s email.  The majority of trademark disputes are “handled informally,” according to Starbucks spokeswoman Laurel Harper in an email to the Associated Press.  

The parody store says it is able to use the Starbucks name and logo because it is technically “making fun” of Starbucks and is considered “a work of parody art,” according to a Dumb Starbucks letter.

The question is whether the word “dumb” sufficiently makes clear that the store is making fun of Starbucks and is not associated with Starbucks, said Mark McKenna, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in trademark law.  “My gut tells me a court would be bothered by how much of the Starbucks trademark was used. It’s not just the word but they also made the store look just like it,” McKenna said in an interview with USA TODAY Network.

[UPDATE] Nathan Fielder appears on Jimmy Kimmel Live, to explain Dumb Starbucks and Parody Law