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“DUMB” STARBUCKS – is this legal?

In February 2014 a coffee shop opened up in Los Angeles that uses the well-known STARBUCKS logo and name but that, additionally, appends the word “DUMB” to the front of it to render “DUMB STARBUCKS.”  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/02/10/dumb-starbucks-parody-free-coffee/5357597/. The owners of the coffee shop claim this is a legal “parody” of the Starbucks mark. Is this true?

Possibly. Trademark law does allow the use of parody marks – but they can only work if they don’t confuse consumers. Most consumers would probably not think that STARBUCKS would open a DUMB STARBUCKS coffee shop, but if there is a possibility that some consumers would be confused, the parody may not be allowed to stand. In general, trademark law seeks to protect the unwary consumer.

Additionally, even if it is a proper parody, STARBUCKS may haul the owners of DUMB STARBUCKS into court and make it hard for them to continue by causing them to defend a costly lawsuit. Take for example, the marks CHARBUCKS BLEND, MISTER CHARBUCKS, and MR. CHARBUCKS, which are also used for coffee. The owner of those marks eventually won in legal battles against STARBUCKS and was permitted to continue using the marks, but the legal battle lasted 12 years and cost over $100,000 in legal fees: http://www.cnbc.com/id/101208003

Thus, deliberately choosing to parody another mark can be costly even if you succeed.