India’s herbal beauty specialist Shahnaz Husain is stirring up trouble at Starbucks.
Husain is proposing to start a national chain of coffee bars to be called Starstrucks. And that has Starbucks Coffee Co., the Seattle-based company which has turned expensive coffee into a trendy global brand, in a bit of a froth.
Starbucks is opposing Husain’s use of Starstrucks and telling India’s Controller-General of Patents, Designs and Trademark that the name is deceptively similar to its own name, which is now in 13,000 locations worldwide and if the company has its way, coming to 27,000 more locations, including some in India.
The US company has registered its trademarks for the “Starbucks” name and logo for a slew of categories starting 20 September 2001, according to the trademarks office.
But what Starbucks is to coffee, Husain is to herbal beauty products in India, with products and branded treatments being sold in some 400 beauty centres, many overseas. And she isn’t about to back off.
“Why should I give it up? There is nothing wrong with it,” Husain told Mint. “Hundreds of others are deceptively similar. What to do? They have opposed and we will fight.”
Husain says she got her registration for Starstrucks in 2004 and will open 25 stores within a year. Starstrucks will have a glamour theme, with the walls adorned with posters of movie stars. “My concept’s totally different,” said Husain. “It will be a Hollywood-style look.”
Vikrant Rana of law firm S.S. Rana & Co., which is representing Starbucks in the case would only say, “I cannot comment beyond whatever is in the (trademark office’s) file.” Earlier this year, Starbucks lost a similar case in South Korea against a company selling coffee under the Starpreya brand.
Trademark lawyers say it often takes years to resolve such trademark and patent disputes in India. If Husain starts her outlets, then in all likelihood the case will end up in courts.
The dispute is significant because Starbucks has sought permission from the government to open its branded coffee shops in a joint venture with an Indonesian franchisee and Kishore Biyani, who is the founder of India’s largest listed retailer Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd. Starbucks said it hopes to be up and running by by the end of this year.
In December, Starbucks approached the Indian government for permission to set up a Starbucks café and sell Starbucks products including expresso machines, branded packaged coffee and coffee.
A ministry of commerce and industry official told Mint that the ministry is yet to clear Starbucks’ proposal and has asked for some clarifications from company, especially about its Indonesia-based partner. “We are waiting for that before we take a view on the proposal,” said the official who did not want to be named.
Husain, who started a small ayurvedic product company out of her home in the 1970s, has built her namesake brand through a slew of products—nearly 350—and beauty treatments out of stores, salons and spas.
Starbucks isn’t the only mega retail brand trying to fend off perceived piggybackers. The world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which is also trying to get into India, is opposing 11 cases in five different trademark offices against individuals, retailers and merchandisers who have registered names such as Mall-Mart, Call-Mart, Val-Mart, Hall-Mart among others.
“The names are confusingly and deceptively sounding similar to Wal-Mart,” said Sharad Vadehra, a lawyer representing the US retailer in India. “In the last two years there has been a splurge in counterfeit applications similar to Wal-Mart.”
Vadehra says his client has already registered almost a hundred of its trademarks in India including, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and Asda.
(Monica Gupta contributed to this story.)