Trademarks: What is a Frappuccino, really?
I’ll fail to answer that question later. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants and maintains trademarks. What is a trademark? USPTO lawyers helpfully tell us a “‘trademark’ protects the use of a word, name, symbol or device that is used in the trade of goods to identify the source of the goods, distinguishing the goods from those produced by another.” What?
In plain English, a Mark (a trademark) can be a word or phrase, a symbol, or a combination. It is intended to protect your company’s hard earned reputation by identifying your product as your product. Your company hires a lawyer when another company uses a similar Mark to identify a product in the same class (there are many) causing market confusion. A Mark is a tool to prevent another company from using your company’s reputation to sell its products or, worse, tainting your company’s reputation with their product.
The Mark system is pretty arcane, but, a few aspects of the system, other than my first name also being Mark, are kind of interesting. There are different kinds of Marks. Trademarks protect goods and products. Service Marks protect (surprise) service businesses. Trade Dress protects packaging. Don’t confuse these with Trade Name, which is your company DBA or fictitious name, registered with your State when your company name does not include your own name.
Back to defining Frappuccino . . . in 2013, Starbucks’ lawyers served the Exit 6 Pub and Brewery in Missouri with a “cease and desist” (stop it now, or else) letter. The lawyers asserted that Exit 6 misappropriated Starbuck’s “Frappuccino” coffee and milk drink, café services, and etc. trademark. I still don’t know what a Frappuccino is, but it seems Starbucks decided that Exit 6 created market confusion by selling a stout beer it called “Frappicino.”
We can argue about the likely market confusion between beer and coffee, bars and cafes, and spelling later. This legal event has much greater significance. Exit 6’s owner, Mr. Britton, sent Starbucks’ lawyers the best and funniest “stick it” letter ever written by a normal person to a lawyer. We offer it in its entirety. No commentary or editing would do it justice.
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