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Brothers, Damrong and Damras Maslae, are owners and operators of a Bangkok coffee cart called Starbung Coffee. The Maslae brothers serve a sweet black brew for THB 30 in the Pra Athit district, the backpacker hub of Bangkok. They have been serving coffee for 15 years and their logo, created by a design-savvy friend, comprises of a green circular logo with a man in a skull cap pouring coffee and a victory sign. The Starbung logo is said to be inspired by Maslae’s religion, Islam, as it also contains several stars.  “Bung” is Damrong’s nickname which means “brother” in Malay. Global coffee giant, Starbucks Coffee Company, was not amused and could not tolerate the unmistakeable resemblance of the Starbung and Starbucks logos. 

Starbucks sent several warning letters to the street vendors but to no avail. Hence, Starbucks filed a trademark infringement complaint (around 11 September 2013) against the Maslae brothers and sought THB 300,000 in damages plus an additional 7.5% monthly interest and monthly installments of THB 30,000 until the Starbung logo is dropped. Later, Starbucks filed a petition (around 9 October 2013) with Thailand’s Central Intellectual Property and International Trade (IP & IT) Court asking for the arrest of the Maslae brothers for continuously using its Starbung logo despite a validly issued injunction. While the Maslae brothers initially stood their ground and vowed to fight the lawsuit it was reported that the parties managed to reach an out-of-court settlement (the details of which have not been put in the public domain) in November 2013 whereby Maslae agreed to change  their logo to BUNG’S TEARS.

This case was described as a David and Goliath battle, and Starbucks was not spared of negative publicity as it was labeled a multinational trademark bully. On the other hand, Starbung sustained unprecedented sales growth while gaining a substantial amount of publicity. It now sells 150 cups of coffee each day. This case illustrates one of the problems faced by trademark owners and counsel in the enforcement of legitimate trademark rights– the negative effects of enforcement, such as bad publicity. Ultimately, it is the company’s goodwill and reputation at stake. Enforcement initiatives need to be well thought-out, prior to pulling the trigger.