Rat City Rollergirls bump up against Starbucks

(click here for September 2008 update)

Saturday, May 24, 2008
Last updated 12:20 a.m. PT


Rollergirls bump up against Starbucks


The Rat City Rollergirls of Seattle are this close to being preserved for time immemorial in a video game.

While the game developers do their thing, the all-female roller derby league has to trademark the logo that it has used since the league formed in 2004.

It seemed simple enough. But after the league filed its paperwork in Washington, it realized a challenge: There’s another entity in town sporting a round logo with two stars, sans-serif font and a babe in the middle.

Starbucks has asked the league to change its logo, said Quinn Heraty, a New York lawyer representing the Rat City Rollergirls and its national association, The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

“The issue is with the shape of the logo, including what they’re calling concentric circles,” she said. “They’re saying that the dimensions of the circles are too close to their own. … I mean, come on, circles and portraits? Big deal. Starbucks didn’t invent that.”

Seattle-based Starbucks has asked for extra time to possibly oppose the logo. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted the company an extension, and the coffee chain has until July to issue a complaint.

“We haven’t opposed it – we have asked for more time to look at it,” Starbucks spokeswoman Stacey Krum said. “There’s a lot of room for us to work together to find a mutually beneficial conclusion here.”

Around the world, Starbucks is known for aggressively defending its siren logo. The company has to prevent others from eroding its trademark, line by line, Krum said.

“There’s no kind of gray when it comes to trademark; it’s very much a yes or no situation,” she said.

Rat City’s lawyer, Heraty, asked Starbucks to support its hometown roller derby league, or compensate the team for the cost of changing the logo. Starbucks has not agreed to either option yet, she said.

“The Starbucks lawyer said that the girls on the roller derby team look scary, and she didn’t think, in her own personal opinion, (that) Starbucks would want to associate themselves with the scary characters of Rat City Rollergirls,” Heraty said. “I just thought it was funny.”

Starbucks is tough. But the Rollergirls are known for being tough, too – and sexy. The amateur league, ranked second in the nation, regularly sells out its monthly bouts where women on skates adopt sporty and sexy alter egos and knock down other women.

The local league has about 80 members, including some Starbucks employees. Its logo wasn’t created to mimic Starbucks, said Rollergirl Sue Schmitz, 38, who also goes by Darth Skater.

“It’s a great logo – personally I think it’s one of the better ones of all the leagues,” Schmitz said. “It’s kind of a shame that it’s come to this. I definitely feel that we can work something out in everybody’s best interest.”

In fact, both sides have stressed that they want to collaborate and not make adversaries of each other.

Without accusing Starbucks specifically, Heraty said that there’s a larger issue at stake. “Just because something is similar doesn’t mean it’s infringing,” she said.

“Let’s resolve the issue, but that doesn’t mean that Starbucks owns all of the concentric circles in the world,” Heraty said. “It’s not like the word Starbucks is even unique. They took that from ‘Moby Dick.’ ”

P-I reporters Joseph Tartakoff and Athima Chansanchai contributed to this report. P-I reporter Andrea James can be reached at 206-448-8124 or andreajames@seattlepi.com.

posted on Saturday, May 24th, 2008 at 11:05 am and is filed under WFTDA, rat city rollergirls, roller-derby, starbucks, trademarks. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses to “Rat City Rollergirls bump up against Starbucks”

  1. Heraty Law - news - tv/film, music, fashion, and business law contributes:
    October 1st, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    [...] Back in May, Starbucks raised concerns that the roller derby team’s logo has a “very similar look and feel” to the Starbucks logo. [...]

  2. Heraty Law - news - tv/film, music, fashion, and business law contributes:
    April 9th, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    [...] Frito-Lay is based in Plano, Texas. This reminds me of how Starbucks, which calls Seattle home, tried to jam up its hometown roller derby league, the Rat City Rollergirls over a trademark [...]

  3. Crackerjack vs. Frito Lay: Will We Lose Our Roller Derby Names? - Like It Derby? contributes:
    May 4th, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    [...] will continue to crop up as roller derby becomes more popular. First it was the battle between the Rat City Rollergirls and Starbucks, now it’s Crackerjack vs. Cracker Jack. Let’s hope that roller derby players and fans will [...]

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