Dumb Starbucks: A Parody or Not?

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Dumb Starbucks: A Parody or Not?

Earlier this month a new coffee shop opened in Los Angeles called Dumb Starbucks.  The outer appearance of the shop is an exact replica of a Starbucks coffee shop except the word “Dumb” appears in front of Starbucks.  Inside, everything is also an exact replica of a Starbucks with the word “dumb” inserted in front.  The cups have the Dumb Starbucks logo and the menu items are dumb as well.  Canadian comic Nathan Felder is the owner of the shop and announced plans to open a second location in New York.  Naturally, Starbucks is not amused and has pledged to protect its trademark. They have stated that they are “evaluating next steps” and have made it clear that “they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark.”

Dumb Starbucks has potentially infringed multiple forms of trademark protection.  Starbucks is a protected word mark and using Dumb Starbucks in commerce can confuse consumers or dilute the Starbucks brand.  Similarly, the logo for Starbucks is also protected but Dumb Starbucks copied it and inserted the word “dumb.”  Since Dumb Starbucks also copied the colors of a Starbucks shop it may have infringed upon trade dress protection, the outside appearance of the coffee shops which help consumers identify they are Starbucks.

In the Dumb Starbucks store, a notice was posted claiming the store was protected by parody law and fair use.  Chances are Starbucks and Dumb Starbucks will not head to court (litigation is expensive!) but if they do, it is hard to determine who will emerge as a winner.  To be a parody, a court must find that an offending mark both invokes the original mark but also differentiates itself by communicating satire, ridicule, joking, or amusement.  The more famous the original mark is, the more likely a judge may find parody.  However, there is no guarantee Dumb Starbucks will be considered a parody in the court of law.  Starbucks knows that litigation is lengthy, costly and not always predictable, thus they will likely negotiate with Mr. Felder before instituting a legal action, but only time will tell.