On the outside of its repurposed food truck, the NYC-based mobile marijuana retailer Starbuds Flowers features a logo that’s hard to miss. The familiar graphic shows a woman with a pointy crown and long wavy hair descending over her chest, surrounded by a green ring that contains the business name. In her right hand, the woman is puffing on what appears to be a lit blunt, while marijuana leaves frame the whole composition. The logo is clearly a parody of Starbucks’ Siren mascot—but the coffee giant isn’t laughing. 

On June 28, Starbucks filed a copyright and trademark infringement lawsuit against Starbuds in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The legal action, which was first reported by Bloomberg Law, specifically calls out Starbuds’ operator, Brandpat, for “deliberately copying the intellectual property Starbucks has developed,” an issue that Starbucks claims was brought to Starbuds’ attention several times prior to the suit. According to the legal documentation, Starbuds displayed the smoking siren logo on its food truck, website, and products. 

The Starbuds logo bears the most striking similarity to an older iteration of the Starbucks logo, which included a black and white siren graphic encased by a green circle with the words “Starbucks Coffee” and two small star details. This logo was first used on Starbucks products in 1987 and became more widely recognizable in the early ‘90s. In its filing with the U.S. District Court, Starbucks lays out all of the similarities between its intellectual property and Starbuds’ logo in an annotated side-by-side graphic. Some of the details they note include “the double-ringed green circle,” “use of all capital letters in the same white color against a green background,” and “similar proportions and composition.”

Starbucks isn’t letting the brand name “Starbuds Flowers” fly, either. The lawsuit drills down into the small business’ wordmark, pointing out that, “The word STARBUDS sounds very similar to STARBUCKS, as they are both two-syllable marks starting with “STAR.” In place of the term “BUCKS,” [Starbuds] has substituted the phonetically similar term “BUDS,” which differs only by two internal letters, shares a similar pronunciation, and is likely to sound very similar when spoken.” Touché. 

The new lawsuit is just the latest in a busy few weeks for Starbucks’ legal team, which is already notorious for cracking down on potential copyright infringers. Since 2019, Starbucks has been duking it out with the Alaska-based apparel and coffee company Mountains and Mermaids in multiple legal back-and-forths. At the center of the dispute is Mountains and Mermaids’ Siren’s Brew coffee blend, which features a mermaid sipping a cup of joe against a starry night sky. This May, Starbucks sued the business for infringing on its wordmarks with the term “siren.” On June 26, Mountains and Mermaids announced on Facebook that it would “sadly be discontinuing our Siren’s Brew design in its entirety as it is known today,” and the two companies seemed to come to an official settlement on June 28

We’ll see if the coffee giant once again finds IP victory versus Starbuds. In the meantime, if you’re thinking of designing a logo, maybe stay away from long-haired mermaids.

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