Did you hear that a “DUMB STARBUCKS COFFEE” shop opened in California recently? (AND this fake parody was a comedian’s publicity stunt)(AND the shop has already been shut down by the LA County health inspectors)? In addition to branding the pop-up cafe with a mocked-up Starbucks logo that added the word “dumb” into the logo, the cafe also featured a virtually identical menu to Starbucks and added the word “dumb” onto the menu boards. (For example selling “Dumb Iced Espresso” in a “Dumb Tall” size cup).
How was this permissible? Short answer, it wasn’t. Parody was being claimed although this was not a parody. Folks often think that just because something is FUNNY it is legally a PARODY. This is a not the case. FUNNY ≠ PARODY. Because this is such a common assumption it’s worthwhile to mention it again (and again, and again). For a terrific analysis of the DUMB STARBUCKS parody claim see on my friend Ron’s blog www.likelihoodofconfusion.com (post written by Matthew David Brozik).
Not surprisingly, a spokeswoman for Starbucks Coffee said that despite the humor, the store cannot use the Starbucks name.
A few other interesting elements raised by this DUMB STARBUCKS parody claim:
- Dumb Starbucks made a claim that their parody was similar to Weird Al Yankovic’s music. However, they left out a critical detail – permission. Weird Al Yankovic ALWAYS gets permission for his music.
- The fact that the shop was closed down by county health inspectors is an interesting detail in this Dumb saga. In fact, it’s not uncommon for various local inspection agencies to become involved when counterfeit merchandise is being sold (technically, the Dumb Starbucks scheme was a misappropriation of the Starbucks brand akin to counterfeiting). If a trademark-infringing business is violating health or building codes in addition to selling counterfeit products, nipping them in the bud for applicable health or building code violations can quickly close the doors. Hence this was the case with the Dumb Starbucks shop being shut down by health inspectors.
BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.
For more information see, TMEP on trademark parody section 1207.01(b)(x) at http://tmep.uspto.gov/RDMS/detail/manual/TMEP/Oct2012/TMEP-1200d1e5036.xml; another blog post on parody; for other blogs posts on trademarks; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.