Starbucks in EU
After Starbucks objected to the registration of More coffee, less bucks! and submitted its arguments to the European trademark office EUIPO, the Romanian entrepreneur asked if Starbucks could show the trademark’s actual use in Europe. In European opposition the attacked party often makes this type of request. The opposition will be rejected if the attacker can prove no use of his trademark over the past five years.
Of course, asking for proof of use of the Starbucks brand in Europe is a ridiculous request. We are inundated with Starbucks stores all over Europe and Mr More coffee, less bucks! Is quite aware of that. Presumably he just wanted to throw a spanner in the works during the procedure. I don’t think he even thought for a second that his request would actually get Starbucks into trouble.
However, on February 14th, 2023, EUIPO rejected Starbucks’ opposition to the registration of More coffee, less bucks! According to EUIPO, Starbucks failed to provide sufficient evidence of use of the Starbucks trademark in Europe. No use of Starbucks in Europe? Sounds like a joke doesn’t it?
Starbucks in Game of Thrones
Starbucks went to great lengths to overload EUIPO with examples of proof of use: a huge file of printouts from Starbucks websites and social media, photos of Starbucks restaurants in various European cities, Starbucks high on the list of World’s Most Admired Companies of Fortune and even the message that a Starbucks cup can be seen in a scene of Game of Thrones. If that’s not enough proof of use!
Missing scope of use
Still, Starbucks should have studied the rules that apply to proof of use under European trademark law. This evidence must not only show where and when the mark has been used in Europe, but it must also clarify the extent of that use. The documents make it clear that the Starbucks brand is used in Europe, but the evidence does not provide any information about the ‘sales volume’. Starbucks should also have shown, for example, visitor statistics of its websites and figures of online sales or the actual sales numbers in the restaurants. But there was none of that, lots of pictures, but no numbers. In short, data on the extent of use are missing and that is deadly in an opposition procedure.
The strange thing is, of course, that the members of the opposition department of EUIPO themselves know perfectly well that Starbucks is one of the best-known brands in the world and that the company also makes billions in Europe under this name. But that’s not what this is about. After all, there are fixed rules for proof of use and even a global brand such as Starbucks must comply with them.
Big brands mess up
It is striking that major brands regularly fail on this front. The same happened to McDonald’s when it failed to demonstrate the use of the Big Mac brand. In appeal, the hamburger chain sheepishly provided better evidence and still won. It is very likely that this Starbucks case will soon head in the same direction and that the registration of the slogan More coffee, less bucks! will eventually still get refused. But for now, they can sell good coffee with that slogan.