The battle of the blanks has started in London pitting a family-run vegan café in Brixton (Blank Coffee) against a big US coffee chain looking to expand in London to rival the likes of Starbucks (Blank Street).
Blank Coffee has accused Blank Street of using a name that is too similar to its own and has already led to some of their customers confusing the two businesses, and they are worried that the arrival of such a large chain sharing its name is going to undermine their USP, hurting their brand image and reputation at the same time.
The legal challenge comes as Blank Street continues its expansion into London, with the view to making the city its second home after New York. This expansion started last year and has already seen Blank Street open 11 cafes across London. Although interestingly, it’s the Clapham chain that has proved most successful, which Blank Coffee puts down to the fact that they are located in Brixton and have already established the Blank brand in this South London.
The case raises interesting questions about the role of trademark law in protecting small businesses from larger competitors. While trademarks are essential for establishing brand recognition and preventing confusion among consumers, they can also become a source of conflict when similar marks are used by different businesses in the same market.
It further shows the importance of checking which brands already exist within jurisdictions you plan on expanding into, sometimes this may mean simply checking the IPO register, but more often than not, comprehensive clearance searches will go beyond simply checking what is registered by looking for marks in use that are not registered. As may have been the case here, Blank Coffee, whilst in use since 2015 was not registered until 2022, 2 months after Blank Steet filed their UK application. As a result, Blank Coffee will have to rely upon their pre-existing unregistered right from 2015.
Ultimately, the outcome of this case will depend on the strength of Blank Coffee’s reputation and goodwill generated in the 7 years prior to Blank Street applying for their trade mark and whether consumers are likely to be confused by the similarity between the two names. In any event, the losing party here is going to find itself being forced to rebrand, potentially slowing down any further expansion plans in the UK.
If you have any trade mark questions or facing your own opposition, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Briffa is always on hand to help with all things trade marks. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0207 096 2779 for a free consultation.
Written by Alex Welham, Solicitor
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