Starbucks sent a cease-and-desist letter to Exit 6 Pub and Brewery in Cottleville, MO earlier this month after the mega-corporation discovered that one of the brewpub's customers named a beer 'frappicino'.
The discovery was made by the coffee giant after searching the website, Untappd, a social network for beer drinkers. The brewery's owner, Jeff Britton, sent a letter to Starbucks's lawyers in response, sarcastically stating that he will never use their ilk ever again, along with a check for $6 for using their trademark that he refers to as "the F-word".
As the beer industry continues to grow in the United States, c&d letters are likely to increase. Ross Appel, a small business attorney who also specializes in brewery trademarks with Komlossy Law P.A. in Hollywood, says this is not an uncommon thing.
Cease-and-desist letters are a common tactic among businesses to eliminate any confusion over the source of a product. For instance, Starbucks likely sent the letter thinking that people will begin to confuse the 'frappicino' beer as one of their products instead of the brewpub's. Yet, comparing coffee to beer is like comparing apples to oranges. Appel believes the brewpub was not likely infringing upon Starbucks's trademark since the coffee company does not produce any alcoholic beverages.
"The idea is to police your mark," Appel said. "Use it or lose it. It's something that needs to be done if there is a potentially infringing situation."
Advertising and sales is argument that Britton could use in court to defend use of the F-word, if he felt so inclined to do so and if he had the vast amount of money and resources available to Starbucks, which he obviously does not. But instead of duking it out in court with a Goliath, it's much easier for the David's of the world to just play it safe and comply with them. Whether or not Exit 6 was infringing or if Starbucks was coming off as a trademark bully, the philosophy is to defend the mark.
"I just thought it was funny this giant corporation was spending all this money on lawyers for me," Britton told the Riverfront Times, the New Times' sister paper in St. Louis. "I wish that I had the money to shit away on lawyers like Starbucks does."
A more common (and one might say legitimate) instance of copyright infringement is when two separate companies in the same industry have have similar names or similarly named products. South Florida breweries are not entirely unaffected.