Arthur R. Lehman, L.L.C.

Pink "Unicorn" drinks spark trademark lawsuit against Starbucks

Unicorns, especially pink unicorns, are thought to be entirely creatures of mythology, but the marketing ploy of a Brooklyn coffee shop has transformed the one-horned beast into a trademark that is at the heart of an intellectual property lawsuit involving pink drinks, both named "Unicorn." The suit involves the local coffee shop and Starbucks, the giant coffee chain.

The Brooklyn coffee shop, The End Brooklyn, began selling a blended drink it called "Unicorn Latte" in December 2015. More than a year later, Starbucks began selling its own pink drink, which it called "Unicorn Frappuccino." The Starbucks product was very successful. Even though the Unicorn Frappuccino was only sold during a five-day period, the coffee shop thought that Starbucks had damaged its business and misappropriated its trademark. The coffee shop and its parent company, Montauk Juice Factory, struck back by filing a trademark infringement lawsuit against Starbucks. According to the allegations of the complaint, Starbucks used its sophisticated social media marketing techniques to advertise its drink. The complaint alleges that the large number of Starbucks' coffee shops and its adroit use of social media caused customers to confuse the Unicorn Latte with the Unicorn Frappuccino.

Starbucks has denied any infringement, saying that unicorn-branded products are very popular on social media. The complaint alleges that both the New York Times and the Huffington Post published articles about the Unicorn Latte before Starbucks began selling its product. Despite the fact that Starbucks is no longer selling the Unicorn Frappuccino, The End Brooklyn is demanding that Starbucks cease all use of the name Unicorn and that it pay to plaintiff all profits earned from selling the Unicorn Frappuccino.

This case again demonstrates the perils which await firms that do not do sufficient investigation before deciding to name a product. Anyone who is facing similar problems may wish to consult an experienced business attorney for advice on strategies to avoid confusion with other brands using similar names or trademarks.

Source: Campaign, "More than one unicorn? Brooklyn coffee shop sues Starbucks over pink Frappuccino," Ilyse Liffreing, May 9, 2017

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