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How Starbucks Coffee Squashed “Star Bock” Beer

Poor Wrecks Bell. As he puts it, he was “just a small time business man, trying to make a bock.” A bock beer that is. And being from the Lone Star State of Texas, he decided to call that beer Star Bock. Where’s the harm in that? According to the U.S. Trademark Office, there was none, and in 2003 Wrecks was granted a trademark for his Star Bock beer.

But that didn’t sit well with a certain corporate juggernaut up in Seattle. Starbucks Coffee took issue with the name Wrecks had chosen for his beer, saying it could create brand confusion. “Star Bock” was just too close to “Starbucks” for their taste. But they don’t make beer. “It’s not coffee,” Wrecks said of his Star Bock during a deposition. “No one can own every word that comes after ‘Star.’ ”  He decided to dig in and fight. 

He called up the media and shared his story with anyone who would listen. He told folks that Starbucks must be planning to sell spirits, that’s why they were bullying him (turns out he was right). Public support was on his side, and things seemed to be going his way. The judge in the case even stopped by Wrecks’ bar (the Old Quarter Horse Acoustic Cafe in Galveston) to have a Star Bock or two.  Wrecks thought he had him in his corner.

But then everything went to hell.  In a short span of time, Wrecks lost the case (he insists Starbucks bought the judge, who was later indicted for sexual assault) and he lost his wife to an accidental overdose administered at a local hospital. Wrecks was forced to limit the sales of Star Bock to Galveston Island and he had to rebuild his life.  He even had to rebuild The Old Quarter Horse Acoustic Cafe, which was destroyed a couple of years after the case by Hurricane Ike.

This all happened several years ago, before Facebook, Twitter and blogs like this one allowed beer geeks to find each other and become a unified voice for the little guy.  Just look what we all did for Rock Art Brewing in their fight against Monster Energy Drinks.  I wonder what would happen if the legal dust up over Star Bock would have happened now.  Would wired-in beer geeks shame Starbucks into dropping their case?  We’ll never know for sure, but I’m confident that we all will spring into action if anything like this pops up in the future.

These days Wrecks is doing okay.  His bar is thriving, he has remarried and life, like it does, has gone on.  But he’s still has a bitter taste in his mouth about what Starbucks did to him and would relish the chance to fight them once again.

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Categories: Beer

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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29 Comments on “How Starbucks Coffee Squashed “Star Bock” Beer”

  1. Evan
    April 29, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    Starbucks pulls this crap a LOT. They also sued the local roller derby league over their logo, which doesn’t even closely resemble the starbucks logo, except for the fact that it’s contained in a circle.

    • April 29, 2011 at 11:26 am #

      It’s gotta be the stars!!

      • Evan
        April 29, 2011 at 11:30 am #

        I guess they just own stars now. Just like Magic Hat owns the number 9

        • April 29, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

          I think It’s Time to brew up Nine Star Coffee Bock!!

  2. April 29, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    There must have been some shady back-door dealings in this case. If you’re granted a trademark they are basically saying you’re free from hassle in regards to other trademarks, that’s the whole point of registering a trademark. Both the trademark office and his trademark consul would’ve done an extensive search and comparison to make sure there were no conflicts. I’ve designed logos and developed brand names in the past and that’s how it’s always worked with my clients’ legal departments.

    • April 29, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

      Yeah, I thought that’s why you did it – to make sure you cleared the Trademark search.

  3. April 29, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    Crazy stuff. I think these companies are a wee bit aggressive, but I think the idea is if they let one thing slip then it proves they aren’t defending their mark. Or something like that.

    I think you’re right though. The beer community seems pretty tight and would surely have come to his aid if this happened now.

    As a result, I preemptively boycotted them anyway years ago! I’d go broke if I were a regular customer.

    • April 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

      Starbucks turned me on to better coffee, the gateway coffee if you will. Now I love Peet’s coffee, which is who Starbucks is modeled off of (Howard Schultz started at Peets, but they wouldn’t go along with his aggressive business style).

  4. April 29, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    I remember a local kebab house in my home town being closed down some years ago, in fact too many years to think about, all because of the name and font they chose. They were a tiny local shop but a certain corproate behemoth took a dislike to their name of McDoner Kebab.
    Yes, they just happened to also use a quite rounded and golden yellow letter ‘M’ 🙂

    • April 29, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

      Well, can’t blame the big boys for defending what’s theirs, although I bet I’d like a McDoner’s kabob better than a Big Mac.

  5. April 29, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    Yo Jim!

    Yet another reason for me to dislike Starbucks (I still say they make crap coffee). Thanks for sharing the story!

    Cheers!
    G-LO

    • April 29, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

      Check out Peet’s Coffee – smoother and better by far!

      • April 29, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

        I’ve heard this on numerous occasions (The Alemonger is a big fan as well). I usually just do espresso at home (stovetop pot, not a fancy machine) since I’m the only coffee drinker (for now). The coffee shop near my office uses La Colombe which I believe is roasted in Philly. Good stuff!

        • Don
          April 29, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

          Yo, G-LO, This ain’t no coffee blog! 😉

        • April 29, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

          It might not be a coffee blog, but I certainly welcome a strong cup of the stuff the morning after I over do it (not that it ever happens).

        • Don
          April 29, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

          I was about to say…When does that happen? /everysaturdaynight/

      • April 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

        Yo Don!

        What better way to extend a late night craft beer or whisky drinking session than with a Cup o’ High Test Joe? 🙂 back atcha!

        Cheers!
        G-LO

        • Don
          April 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

          True. Its understood…we don’t need to talk about it.

  6. April 29, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Just further proof that the law is no defense against big money.

    On an unrelated note, I’m thinking of opening a drywall business and calling it “Wall-Mart.”

    • April 29, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

      That should go well. 🙂

  7. bill bennett
    April 29, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    He should have trademarked it before he did anything else. It sucks but it is reality. Were trying to get our brewery off the ground and te hardest part is that we want to market aggressivley, but we are trademarking everything which in a way forces us to be silent. We would rather be patient on the front end so that we don’t have to reconstruct a brand midstream due to some stupid lawsuit about a name.

    • bill bennett
      April 29, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

      Whoops. Disregard.

      • April 29, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

        Funny thing is that the trademarking is what put him on the radar over at Starbucks.

  8. May 1, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    The green giant will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on proving a point. Trademark law is one of the most expensive to fight and they have the deep pockets to do so. I remember a gal named Charlotte Buck. She went by the name of Char, and lived in a little town (forget the place) but she had a little cafe called “Char Bucks”. She was there long before the evil entity ever set foot in the area and they sued her and won for the same reason: ‘brand confusion’! WTF?

    • May 2, 2011 at 10:31 am #

      That’s awful. I guess having deep pockets makes it easy to steal someone’s namesake and livelihood.

  9. May 4, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    Not everyone is so uptight about protecting their name. Case in point: Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah is thrilled about the beer named in his honor:

    http://blogs.westword.com/cafesociety/2011/05/new_yorks_ghostface_killah_sig.php

    • May 4, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

      I would be thrilled, too. They’d probably call it Whitey’s Wheat Wine, as I’m the most Caucasian person you’ll ever meet.

      • May 4, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

        Mine would almost certainly be “Big Al’s EXTRA-Pale Ale.”

        • May 4, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

          Why not just go with Albino Ale and call it a day?

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