For many, the name “Charbucks” could easily be mistaken for a typo of the famous Seattle-based coffee chain. However, last Friday, a federal appeals court ruled that a small, family-owned New Hampshire roaster could continue selling its line of Charbucks coffee despite Starbucks' protests.
One of the key elements of the case was a survey of 600 people that found that consumers' No. 1 association with the name Charbucks was the brand Starbucks. However, as only 4.4 percent said that Starbucks would be the most likely place to sell a Charbucks product, the judge ruled that the two were only minimally similar.
For big brands, defending a name from copycat competition is a common legal struggle. A familiar name can bring customers in, even if chains do not share a common owner. In other cases, small businesses claim to want nothing to do with the big chain, and may have even predated its foundation. From McDonald’s to Cheeseburger in Paradise, legal battles over names are a slippery slope that can quickly grow absurd.