I'm not typically in the habit of sticking up for Starbucks, but in the interest of calling 'em like I see 'em, the juggernaut of gentrification and oh-so-addictive seasonal lattes has been falsely accused of ripping off its latest unabashedly millennial temptation, the Unicorn Frappuccino.
The owners of Brooklyn cafe The End have filed a suit against Starbucks, claiming that its absurdly bright, sparkly and sweet concoction is guilty of "infringing, diluting, and otherwise diminishing the value of [The End's] intellectual property," reports the New York Post.
That intellectual property is The End's Unicorn Latte, the cafe's popular drink described by the New York Times as a "restorative drink... best before a deep yoga session or meditation."
The End has filed for a trademark on the name of the drink that is still pending. The suit claims that in the meantime Starbucks launched a giant promotion for its own unicorn-themed drink, which "was designed so that the Unicorn Frappuccino would eclipse the Unicorn Latte in the market, thereby harming [The End] and confusing their customers," the legal filing reads.
Starbucks' Unicorn Frappy was only available for a limited time and has already disappeared from menus, but The End claims that the damage has already been done, about $10 million worth of damage, actually.
I'm not a lawyer nor much of an expert on trademarks, so I really have no useful thoughts on the legal merits of the suit, but I definitely have some opinions about it.
First, the only thing these two beverages seem to have in common is their name and the use of some pastel colors that are associated with the mythical/pop culture concept referenced by the name. Starbucks' drink is just another insulin freak-out of sugar, milk and artificial flavors and colors, while The End's latte is a "healing" artisan drink made from raw cashews, cold pressed ginger, dates and lemon juice. Oh, and don't forget the spirulina powder garnish.
These are very different products using the same pop culture trope for a marketing boost. Is there a trademark infringement issue here under the law? Maybe, I don't know. But if there is, then the system is broken. I'm not comfortable with the first person that thinks of it being able to take ownership of a very ubiquitous concept, let alone an ancient archetype like the frickin' unicorn.
I hate to side with Goliath over David in this situation, but I lose a lot of respect for David when he's willing to sell out the free exchange of ideas and assert dominance over a beloved mythical creature, all for an easy payday.
I mean, come on, that's the sort of thing I'd expect from Starbucks.