Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

Dumb Starbucks: Parody or Clever Marketing Ploy? A Teaching Case

Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

Dumb Starbucks: Parody or Clever Marketing Ploy? A Teaching Case

Article excerpt

DUMB STARBUCKS: PARODY OR CLEVER MARKETING PLOY? A TEACHING CASE

Faculty should assign students to read the case, view the Nathan Fielder video online at Dumb Starbucks, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo deCOd1HU, and read the appropriate pages in the course textbook, for example, pages 224-226 in The Entrepreneur's Legal Companion, 1 e., by Davidson and Forsythe, or pages 939-942 in Business Law: Principles and Cases in the Legal Environment, 2 e., by Davidson and Forsythe. Most business law textbooks have a chapter on intellectual property, which includes trademarks. In the alternative, the instructor could ask that students read one of the following online description of trademark law: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/metaschool/fisher/domain/tm.htm .

http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/trademark. These instructors' notes contain suggested questions and background information to enable the instructor to become familiar with the legal and ethical topics. The Instructor's Notes are organized around these main topics:

A. Trademark: Four Basic Questions

B. Trademark Defenses

C. Cases That Might Be Precedent in Litigation

D. Ethics of Fielder's actions: Basic Theories

E. Was Dumb Starbucks Effective as a Promotion?

A. Trademark: Four Basic Questions

1. What is a trademark?

2. What is the purpose of trademark protection?

3. How does one obtain a trademark?

4. What rights does a trademark owner have against one who appropriates the owner's trademark?

The questions can be answered in a lecture or the instructor can ask the students to find the answers. After providing the summary of the law on trademarks, the instructor should ask students to apply that law to Dumb Starbucks to determine whether Starbucks has a trademark, what it covers, and what rights the real Starbucks might have against Fielder.

1. What is a trademark?

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. The term 'trademark' is often used to refer to both trademarks and service marks (The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, n.d., a).

The mark can be a word or symbol, or both could be used. Starbucks and its logo are both trademarks and service marks, since the word and its wavy haired figure identify both the coffee and the service of selling the coffee (The Berkman Center, n.d.).To be protectable under the law, the name and/or mark must be distinctive.

In determining whether a mark is distinctive, the courts group marks into four categories, based on the relationship between the mark and the underlying product. Marks may be: (1) arbitrary or fanciful, (2) suggestive, (3) descriptive, or (4) generic. Because the marks in each of these categories vary with respect to their distinctiveness, the requirements for, and degree of, legal protection afforded a particular trademark will depend upon which category it falls within (The Berkman Center, n.d.).

"An arbitrary or fanciful mark is a mark that bears no logical relationship to the underlying product.... Arbitrary or fanciful marks are inherently distinctive--i.e. capable of identifying an underlying product--and are given a high degree of protection" (The Berkman Center, n.d.). Starbucks and the wavy haired figure are distinctive.

2. What is the purpose of trademark protection?

The purpose of trademark law is to help consumers identify the source of goods and services (The Berkman Center, n.d.). Trademark law gives the owner exclusive rights to market its products and services with the mark.When a trademark owner sues for trademark infringement, the burden is on the plaintiff to show that there is likelihood that consumers will be confused about the source of the product (The Berkman Center, n. …

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