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David versus Goliath: Starbucks caught up in another row!

Starbucks has recently suffered yet another media backlash, this time over its supplier’s decision to trade mark the term “Duffin”. The “Duffin” product was being produced for Starbucks.

A small London chain of bakeries, Beas of Bloomsbury, has been making Duffins (a cross between a doughnut and a muffin) for over two years. Its proprietor even added the recipe to its cookbook, released in 2011, called Tea with Bea.

Subsequently, Starbucks’ factory supplier, Rich Products, filed a trade mark application for DUFFINS in July 2013. The trade mark application (which covers “bakery goods”) was accepted for registration which meant that Rich Products/Starbucks would be able to enforce their rights and prevent all third parties in the UK from using the term “Duffin” for any bakery goods such as cakes, pastries and breads (although it should be noted that Starbucks has made no attempt to stop Beas of Bloomsbury selling their own Duffin product).

The owner of Beas of Bloomsbury went public when she realised that this mark had been filed, most probably because she feared that Starbucks may try to prevent her use of the mark. Starbucks/Rich Products initially claimed to have carried out extensive clearance searches before filing the mark and were not aware of any third party using the name. However, Beas of Bloomsbury dismissed that claim and highlighted various online references and articles in media outlets ranging from London’s Evening Standard to the website of an American TV show.

Had Starbucks carried out a full availability search covering not only registered trade marks but also unregistered rights, it would surely have found references to Beas of Bloomsbury and could have avoided this conflict. Further, Beas of Bloomsbury should have considered filing its own trade mark before launching its own product particularly given that UK trade marks are relatively cheap and quick to obtain. If it had done so, it would be in a very strong position to take action against Starbucks/Rich Products.