New York City coffee shop The End has filed a trademark infringement suit against The Starbuck Company in regards to its high profile launch of a coloured drink without coffee earlier this year. The End believes that Starbucks’ ‘Unicorn Frappuccino’ is confusingly similar to its own ‘Unicorn Latte’. The End, owned by the Montauk Juice Factory, launched in December 2016 with the sale of a drink called Unicorn Latte. It took the company six months to develop the drink, which includes ginger, dates and algae. There is no coffee in the Unicorn Latte. In January 2017, The End filed a trademark application for Unicorn Latte at the US Trademark Office (USPTO).
Starbucks launched its own drink Unicorn Frappuccino in April 2017. This drink contains sugar and natural and artificial additives. Unicorn Frappuccino was this year’s first new Frappuccino taste for Starbucks.
Just a coincidence? Unicorn Latte is the most popular product Montauk Juice Factory has created so far, and the company has stated that it was shocked and disappointed when Starbucks started selling Unicorn Frappuccinos, which is similar to their product in both appearance and branding. However, Starbucks' product does not contain any of the ‘healthy’ ingredients that are found in the Unicorn Latte.
According to Montauk Juice Factory’s legal team, its drink was a success due to the attention it gained on social media. Starbucks, with its thousands of coffee shops, launched a competitive product with a similar appearance and almost identical name and sold it via the same channels, causing the company to suffer financial and other damage. Because of Starbucks’ scale and the way in which it launched its Unicorn Frappuccino, The End’s Unicorn Latte was completely overshadowed. Customers even started asking for a Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino instead of the Unicorn Latte at The End.
Montauk Juice Factory has asked Starbucks for an apology and a compensation. Starbucks has already stopped selling the Unicorn Frappuccino, but The End is pursuing a court judgment.
Brand protection This case indicates that the importance for any company, regardless of size, to acquire protection for its brands. Trademark registrations are an important tool; particularly against larger competitors. For that reason, it is important to capture the appropriate intellectual property rights in time; not only by registering your trademarks but – if applicable – also design rights, patents, domain names and/or and to clarify ownership regarding copyright.