Beer or Coffee?
June 8, 2005 - Even though a Texas businessman has run out of a beer he calls Star Bock, he and coffee giant Starbucks continue to wrestle over rights to the name. Rex Bell, owner of the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe in Galveston, and Starbucks were back in court this week as U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent spent less than a day listening to arguments in the trademark infringement case. Kent promised a decision by August.
"If this case can be distilled to its essence," Kent said with a smile after opening arguments were concluded, "We'll be seeing which 'Star' will remain in the Lone Star State."
Bell said he got the idea for his beer after a customer asked for one Texas beer, Lone Star, and changed his order to another Texas beer, Shiner Bock. He's said that when he joked he could serve a Star Bock beer, the idea for the beer was born.
He contracted the now-defunct Brenham Brewery to "tweak" the recipe for its Brenham Bock and make 100 kegs (a total of 1,550 gallons) for the Old Quarter. Bell put it on tap in 2002 and finally ran out of beer earlier this year. Although Bell no longer has beer to sell and doesn't have the original recipe, he hopes to team up with another brewery once the legal wranglings are over.
Bell testified that in 2002 he searched the Internet to see if anyone owned the Star Bock name, and finding the one-word name StarBock available, he paid $355 to register the trademark and continued to sell his beer under the two-word name Star Bock.
"I thought it was just a great name for a beer, especially for a Texas beer," he said in court.
During the hearing, Starbucks called on a University of Houston marketing professor who testified that when 450 consumers were asked online whether they thought a new beer called Star Bock or StarBock was associated with another company, 48% said Star Bock made them think of Starbucks and 58% linked StarBock to Starbucks.
The beverage battle first began when Starbucks' legal team got wind of Bell's trademark filing and started sending warning letters, then raised a formal objection with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. But it was Bell who forced the battle into a showdown, when he had his attorney, John Egbert, file a suit in Galveston for a declaratory judgment allowing Bell to market his beer as Star Bock.
Starbucks countersued, seeking an order preventing Bell from using the name and making him cover its hefty attorneys fees.