I’ve been following the saga of Star Bock Beer since it first made the news after Starbucks hit it with a cease-and-desist letter for allegedly violating its trademark. See here, here, here, and here for prior bloggage on the case. Yesterday, a district court judge heard testimony in the dispute.
U.S. District Judge Sam Kent heard testimony Monday in the trademark infringement case between Rex “Wrecks” Bell, owner of the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe here, and Seattle-based Starbucks.
Bell maintains he got the idea for Star Bock beer in 2002 after a customer asked for one Texas beer, Lone Star, and changed his order to another Texas beer, Shiner Bock.
“I thought it was just a great name for a beer, especially for a Texas beer,” Bell told Kent during a non-jury trial that lasted five hours Monday.
Bell served the beer in his bar, a side-street haunt for local folks and fans of alternative country musicians, from May 2003 until he ran out of the brew about a month ago.
Brenham Brewery, which produced the 100 kegs Bell sold, is out of business now, but Bell testified Monday that he’s been talking to brewers large and small about reviving Star Bock and making it a national brand.
Colleen P. Chapman, Starbucks brand strategy director, told Kent on Monday that the company goes to great lengths to differentiate itself from competitors and protect its reputation for consistent high quality.
“We’ve learned that any injury to that reputation has a negative impact on our brand,” Chapman said.
Bell testified he paid $355 to register the trademark Starbock after searching federal trademark records and finding that no one else had registered the name. He sold his beer under the two-word name Star Bock.
Bell said it’s clear in his trademark application and in advertising he’s done that his product is beer.
“It’s not coffee,” Bell said. “No one can own every word that comes after ‘Star.’ ”
On cross-examination, however, Starbucks lawyers suggested Bell is well aware of how similar Starbock and Star Bock are to Starbucks and wants to cash in on the publicity the case has generated around the world.
Kent said he expects to issue a ruling in the case by Aug. 19.
I’ve been rooting for Rex Bell from the beginning, though I admit I’ve had my doubts that he could ever win. Hopefully, Judge Kent will rule that there is a difference between beer and coffee (even if some other companies are trying to blur the line), and Rex Bell can find another brewer and go back to doing what he wants to do. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: Jack criticizes Starbucks for pushing the issue.