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Article updated: 10/9/2012 5:27 AM

Starbucks battles Starbarks in Algonquin

Inverness woman admits battle against Starbucks is futile

By Burt Constable

A former airline mechanic determined to follow her passion, Andrea McCarthy-Grzybek of Inverness had everything she needed for her new dog-boarding business in Algonquin except a catchy name.

"I just love dogs," McCarthy-Grzybek says, explaining how she bought an old house on Main Street, gutted it with the help of husband Al Grzybek and cousin Robert Popiela of Kildeer and transformed it into the canine-friendly, cage-free facility of her dreams. Her daughters Marie, 12, and Grace, who turns 15 next week, help out whenever they can. She hired boarding manager Rick Hoyt of Batavia and even bought leather couches and TVs so the dogs could lounge around in comfort the way they do in their own homes.

Needing a cute name to draw attention to her small business, she searched online and found a name popular with many dog-grooming businesses: Starbarks.

At the end of 2011, McCarthy-Grzybek and her husband and co-owner filed all the proper paperwork to open their Starbarks Dog Daycare business at 220 N. Main St. They acquired the starbarksdog.com website. An artist who paints acrylic-on-canvas portraits of the dogs in her life, McCarthy-Grzybek thought about designs for her Starbarks signs. She toyed with putting Starbarks in the same font as the "Star Wars" movies but opted for an oval sign with a green background and two stars below the word Starbarks. The business opened on March 13.

A month later, a lawyer representing Starbucks coffee company sent them a letter regarding "unauthorized use of intellectual property." The letter said the Starbarks name "is closely similar to the famous Starbucks trademark," labeled her Starbarks logo and sign a "mutilated version" of the famous, green Starbucks logo, and requested she "cease and desist" from using the Starbarks name and her logo in any way.

"It's cute and a play on words. Why are they picking on a tiny place?" says McCarthy-Grzybek, who figures Starbucks makes more on latte sales in a minute than she makes in a week. "I'm Irish, so I made the sign green. Do they own green, too?"

No, but Starbucks apparently has the grounds to win a trademark law battle. Starbucks did win a case forcing a woman known as Sam Buck to change the name of her Sambucks coffee house. It recently persuaded an Arizona dog-grooming business called Starbarks to change its name to Canine Village.

"We have a legal obligation to protect our trademark from infringement in order to protect our exclusive rights to it," explains Zack Hutson, a Starbucks spokesman. "We have to do that, otherwise we lose the rights to it."

If Starbucks or some other giant corporation lets a small business "dilute" its trademarks with seemingly innocent word plays, it could end up losing all rights to its trademark. Aspirin, elevator, escalator and thermos used to be trademarks.

"We've made significant investments to develop our brand and intellectual property over the last 40 years," Hutson says. He notes that Starbucks hasn't taken any legal action against McCarthy-Grzybek and hopes to "informally and amicably" persuade her to change the name of her business and website and design a new logo and sign.

A banner in front of her business now reads, "The coffee giant wants us to change our name and our logo," and urges people to voice their opinions on the Facebook page for Starbarks Dog Inc. But she realizes her social media bark can't win a battle against Starbucks' legal bite.

"Do I want to change our name? No. But what else am I going to do?" says McCarthy-Grzybek, who notes that Starbucks rejected her offer to change the shape of her sign, replace the stars with dog prints and paint it all yellow. There are lots of dog-related businesses called Starbarks from coast to coast, as well as places called Howliday Inn and Red Woof Inn. McCarthy-Grzybek doesn't know why her Algonquin business came under fire while others have existed for years without a peep about trademarks. She says she wishes Starbucks would have contacted her before she spent thousands of dollars developing the Starbarks website, signs and reputation.

"We routinely check business filings for potential conflicts," Hutson says, adding that the company hopes to sniff out all Starbarks businesses as soon as possible.

McCarthy-Grzybek wants customers and potential customers to know that she is still the owner, and that the place still will be run in the same way, even after Starbarks changes to a new name.

"I've got a long list," McCarthy-Grzybek says, adding that she's considering names such as "The Dog Haven," "Bone, Sweet, Home," "Mutts on Main" and other monikers without trademark issues. "I'm not going to go with McDog's."

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