October 17, 2006
Brand Naming: Protecting Starbuck’s Brand in Asia is a Venti Order
Many of you are probably aware by now of Starbucks’ recent trademark loss to its South Korean look-alike “Starpreya.” I think this helps energize the debate around the difficulties regarding protecting trademarks in Asia.
A quick look at Starpreya’s logo and typography scheme shows striking similarities to Starbuck's. The South Korean court has chosen to overlook this, much to the dismay, I am sure, of the 177 Starbucks stores operating on Korea.
At almost the same time as Starbuck’s trademark loss in South Korea, it won a similar case in China, where, I am sure you will agree, the logo and typography have not been quite as blatantly copied (see image on right), but possibly better protected. This all happens while Starbucks firms up its plans to increase its number of outlets worldwide to 20,000, with plans tabled for Brazil, Egypt, India and Russia.
The market for high-end coffee in Asia has hardly been tapped, and thus it seems clear that trademark squabbles like this are likely to persist - even to the rather absurd level. Starbucks’ experience in China has led to a wonderful post on the China Law blog and the advice therein seems to be applicable to all of Asia.
Starbuck’s loss in South Korea (ostensibly because the South Korean brand features a Norse Goddess called Freja) is especially bothersome. The problem is that the brand name “Starpreya” is a sound-alike name (actually a version of Starbucks that Koreans would find easier to pronounce). Starbucks, for all its efforts to protect its company name and logo in Asia, seems to have not thought about protecting its name against a soundalike that manifests itself in different dialects.
Starbucks, like other companies attempting to protect their brand names in Asia, should be aware of possible connotations, alternate pronunciations and alternate/sound-alike representations of their name in both English and Asian writing.
But I have to say this is a very tall (venti) order indeed.
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