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Starbucks nibbles at heels of Starbarks doggie daycare

AndreMcCarthy-Grzybek holding Boo her husbAl Grzybek run daycare boarding center for dogs called Starbarks. Starbucks Coffee says their logo one

Andrea McCarthy-Grzybek, holding Boo, and her husband Al Grzybek run a daycare and boarding center for dogs called Starbarks. Starbucks Coffee says their logo and the one used by Starbucks are too similar, and want the Grzybeks to make changes to their name and logo. Starbarks is photographed on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 in Algonquin. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 10, 2012 6:18AM

The four-legged, furry customers at Andrea McCarthy-Grzybek’s doggie boarding facility would much prefer a nice, big bone to a steaming caramel macchiato.

So McCarthy-Grzybek never dreamed that the name she chose for her business, Starbarks Dog Daycare, would cause such problems.

Her dog day care and boarding business opened in March in a refurbished house on North Main Street in Algonquin. Its cage-free, homey interior was beginning to draw a loyal clientele.

And then the letter arrived from a certain coffee company based in Seattle.

Starbucks, the worldwide coffee giant, was asking Starbarks Dog Daycare to get rid of its name, logo and website, — or else.

That, McCarthy-Grzybek said, would create a huge financial burden.

“We’re a small place,” she said. “Good lord, I’m only paying the bills here.”

Starbucks spokesman Zack Hutson said Friday that while the coffee company prefers to reach an “amicable” resolution out of court, “we have a legal obligation to protect our intellectual property . . . in order to retain our exclusive rights to it.”

Hutson said discussions were continuing.

It’s true that the Starbarks Dog Daycare logo looks a lot like those green, black and white signs that beckon coffee drinkers into Starbucks.

But Starbarks clients seem to think it’s cute — not confusing. “Can Starbucks seriously be more petty?!” wrote one supporter in a typical comment on Starbarks’ Facebook page.

“I love the name. Everyone loves it. It’s clever,” McCarthy-Grzybek said. “It’s not like we sell coffee or anything they do.”

She added that she has offered to change the green in the logo to yellow and the stars to paws, but Starbucks wasn’t biting.

There have been other David-vs.-Goliath fights over trademarks over the years, with most turning on one of two legal theories: that the newer business is creating confusion in the marketplace or that it is diluting the power of the original trademark.

Dilution is the newer of the two legal tactics. And as might be expected with such a gray area, court cases have gone either way, said Georgetown University law professor Rebecca Tushnet, an expert in trademark law and a visiting professor at the University of Chicago.

For example, a dog toy called “Chewy Vuitton” beat back a challenge from designer Louis Vuitton Malletier. But lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret successfully sued a sex-toy shop called Victor’s Little Secret.

Tushnet said that because Starbarks has offered to make substantial changes to its logo, it would be a stretch to say that it dilutes Starbucks’ brand.

On the other hand, corporations will argue that dilution is like an infection; if you give a pass to one business, you open the doors to all sorts of copycats.

“Often this is not a battle that the small businesses can afford to fight in court. They can only fight in the court of public opinion,” Tushnet said.

McCarthy-Grzybek said she’s already spent about $2,000 on legal costs. She’s not sure how much more she can stomach.

“If we lose, we’d have to pay their lawyers, and that’s the part that’s scary,” she said.

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