People either love or hate Starbucks. There is no in-between. But there is one Starbucks seasonal that most people across the board love: the pumpkin spice latte, the ingredients of which have been scrutinized and criticized time and again. Vegans were worried dairy was added; pumpkin fans were worried actual pumpkins were not added. (they are not, by the way. It is a pumpkin spice latte, the operative word being spice.)

However the latest controversy surrounding Starbucks does not concern their flavorful latte, but a ‘new’ product they launched in the United Kingdom: a muffin stuffed with jam that they are calling the ‘duffin’. They have filed for a trademark on the name, but many have been quick to protest, plastering their blog with negative comments. Apparently the duffin is a signature pastry being served at Bea’s of Bloomsbury (BoB), a London based bakery, since 2011.  The recipe has even been published in a cookbook. BoB was touched by the amount of support they received and has even offered a 15% duffin discount to all loyal customers.  With their trademark, Starbucks can legally force BoB to stop selling the pastry under the duffin name. Nonetheless, if the matter does go to a court of law, prior use becomes an issue and Starbucks will most likely not succeed. But contesting a legal matter against a behemoth like Starbucks will most likely cripple a small business.

Starbucks’ stand that they were unaware of BoB’s jam filled muffins and that they did not steal the idea seems unlikely at best and is a clear infringement of intellectual property. Should they be granted a trademark over the term duffins?  What if we ask the same question from an economic standpoint?

Starbucks has clearly stated they have no intention of preventing BoB from selling their duffins. BoB never intended to file for a trademark assuming such a concept should not and could not be trademarked. They always expected other bakeries to be in the market selling a similar product and if they are not prevented from selling duffins is this really such a bad thing. From an economic perspective I believe not. If anything, this controversy has brought BoB into the limelight. This recognition will help marketing and assuming duffins eventually become a craze, they will be able to proudly boast their status as “the home of the authentic duffin”. Bea Vo, the owner of BoB, herself has stated she did not come up with the concept and hence never thought to file a trademark. Anyone can make them. It is apparent that BoB has a loyal customer base that will not flock to Starbucks.

For the American bakery owners looking to coin this term in the United States, you are too late. The term duffins has already been trademarked here by a bakery in Arkansas, Pontiac Coffee House. 

The moral of the story? Protect your intellectual property before someone claims it as theirs!


For more information on tradmarks, watch Mary Juetten's video

to understand the four types of intellectual property.