Starbucks Takes To The Courts In China.

In the land of tea, the world’s best-known coffee chain is going to court to protect its name.

Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. is suing a competitor in Shanghai over use of their shared Chinese name, the latest in a growing number of copyright suits involving foreign firms in China.

Starbucks said it filed the lawsuit on Dec. 23, 2003 against the Shanghai Xingbake coffee shop chain for trademark infringement after it was unable to settle out of court.

Both companies use the same three Chinese characters in their names – “Xingbake.” In Chinese, “xing” means “star” and “bake” (bah-kuh) is a phonetic rendition of “-bucks.”

The non-Starbucks company, Shanghai Xingbake, claims the name was registered as its company name, rather than as a trademark, making Starbucks’ complaint invalid.

Starbucks has 37 stores in Shanghai and close to 100 in China, while Xingbake is among the many smaller competitors hoping to give the global coffee giant a run for its money. General Manager Mao Yubo said his two-store chain had registered the name as its company title on March 9, 2000, before Starbucks had even applied.

He said Starbucks’ suit was invalid because it alleged infringement of trademark rather than company name.

“We came first,” Mao said. “We can’t lose the case.”

Foreign companies operating in China have increasingly turned to the law to protect their brands from rampant copyright piracy. Chinese companies have also been turning to the courts to protect their names, something unheard of in the past.

Source: San Jose Mercury News, AP, “Starbucks Sues China Competitor Over Name,” February 6, 2004.