Dunkin’ Donuts Threatens Coffee Shop With Legal Action Over Handwritten Window Message

Image courtesy of Mike's Coffee

We understand the need for companies to protect their trademarks, but the biggest names in coffee seem to love punching down at small businesses over minor disputes. Starbucks twice fought — and twice lost — a battle with a small New Hampshire roaster over “Charbucks, Caribou Coffee forced a Michigan cafe to change its name, and now Dunkin’ Donuts is threatening legal action against a Massachusetts coffee shop over a slogan handwritten on the store’s window.

The Sun Chronicle reports that Dunkin’ sent a cease and desist letter to Mike’s Coffee Shop in North Attleboro, MA, after the smaller store decorated its windows with a different take on Dunkin’s well-known slogan “America Runs On Dunkin’.”

The tag lines — “North Now Runs On Mike’s” and “Plainville Now Runs On Mike’s” — were the result two different customers’ offhanded comments that the surrounding cities now run on Mike’s, according to owner Steve Copoulos, who recently opened the shop in the former home of a Dunkin’ Donuts.

While the slogans sound familiar, Copoulos tells the Sun Chronicle, he never even considered the cheeky window art would cause problems with the coffee giant.

According to the cease and desist letter, the company found Mike’s use of the phrase a direct infringement on Dunkin’s 2006 trademark for “America Runs On Dunkin’.”

“Displaying ‘Plainville & North now runs on Mike’s’ creates a likelihood of confusion among consumers by implying that you are an approved vendor of ours,” the letter states, as reported by the Sun Chronicle. “Your actions are clearly designed to trade on the goodwill and reputation associated with the America Runs on Dunkin’ trademark and constitutes both trademark infringement and trademark dilution.”

But Copoulos says he never intended for the coffee shop to be anything like Dunkin’. Instead, he says he only opened the store in order to offer residents an alternative to stores like Dunkin’ and Starbucks, and that customers are likely able to differentiate between the two companies.

“I want to be the exact opposite: A friendly and happy place where you can talk to the owner,” he tells the Sun Chronicle. “I want my customers to come in here knowing they can get a good cup of coffee in a comfortable environment.”

Copoulos suggests that Dunkin’s cease and desist letter is just the chain’s way of swinging around its clout, and getting back at Copoulos’ family for refusing to sell the building to the bigger chain.

The owner tells the Sun Chronicle that Dunkin’ tried to buy the building outright several times, and each time the family refused, the company threatened to open a location down the road. Something it eventually did.

“They want every corner and they don’t want any competition,” Copoulos said.

Consumerist has reached out to Dunkin’ Donuts for comment on the letter. We’ll update this post if we hear back.