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Did the Unicorn Frappuccino infringe on a trademark?

The Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino drew international attention for its bright colors, sweet taste and limited release. Customers crowded the Los Angeles area’s more than 100 Starbucks locations in search of the drink, which, like a unicorn, had reached almost mythical status before it was no longer available. But is the fairy tale marketing success over for Starbucks?

Unlike the Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino, the legal steps a company can take to protect its products and identity last for more than a few days. Yet, despite the sparkling drink’s short existence, it may have inadvertently crossed paths with another coffee shop’s trademark.

According to USA Today, a coffee shop based in Brooklyn, N.Y. filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the Seattle-based coffee giant because of the Unicorn Frappuccino. New York City has the second-highest number of Starbucks locations in the world, making them the largest source of competition for local coffee shop owners.

What’s the story here?

The lawsuit states that the Brooklyn coffee shop already has a Unicorn Latte, which is also a brightly colored non-coffee based drink. The similarities in the two drinks’ name and color led the Brooklyn coffee shop to allege that Starbucks’ frappuccino confused its customers, who know the Unicorn Latte to be a health conscious drink as opposed to the Starbucks version that was made with milk and a high amount of sugar.

The case raises pertinent concerns for local small business owners and entrepreneurs. All too often a small business owner is outmatched in the market by a big company with more resources and better marketing. However, there is a legal process available to help protect the products and public image of a small business or start up.

Trademark basics

A company’s trademark allows for consumers to easily identify a product’s source from others in the industry. If a competitor or other entity with bad intentions infringes on a company’s trademark, the wrongful party may be held liable for damages. Legal protection is available by filing a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Why should I file a trademark?

Filing a trademark with the USPTO is not required to do business, but failing to do so could leave small business owners and entrepreneurs without legal options if another company were to infringe upon their products or images.

A local attorney that specializes in understanding trademark and patent law can help guide business owners and entrepreneurs through the trademark filing process.

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