The roadside push-cart coffee vendor being sued by US coffee giant Starbucks for trademark infringement says he is willing to go to jail but will not remove his logo.
Push-cart coffee vendor Damrong Maslae makes milk tea under his "Starbung Coffee'' logo on Phra Athit Road in Phra Nakhon district on Tuesday. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)
The "Starbung Coffee" logo features a green-and-white motif which the well-known international coffee chain said is a copy of its trademark.
Starbucks sent a cease-and-desist letter to Starbung owner Damrong Maslae telling him to stop using the logo last year.
It also filed a trademark violation complaint with the Intellectual Property Court and asked for an injunction, which the court granted.
Kulanee Issadisai, acting director-general of the Intellectual Property Department, said Starbung resisted the injunction order so Starbucks filed another complaint through its legal representative Tilleke & Gibbins International Co last week, asking for compensation amounting to 300,000 baht plus 7.5% interest per year.
Starbucks Corp is also demanding a monthly payment of 30,000 baht plus legal fees.
The court has set the first hearing for Nov 4. Mr Damrong, 43, claimed the logo was designed by his friend and was not similar to that of Starbucks.
He said it was inspired by Islam, featuring an old Muslim man at the centre. The Starbucks emblem features a woman.
"I won't remove my trademark logo or change the name no matter what," said Mr Damrong, whose story was featured in Britain's The Guardian newspaper while Japanese media also are waiting to talk to him.
The case has generated thousands of comments from netizens.
Some people argued that a giant corporation like Starbucks, which generates revenue of more than 412 billion baht per year, should not take the street vendor to court as there was no way people could confuse Starbung, which sells coffee for 25 to 40 baht, with Starbucks where the brew is at least three times the price.
Others said the case is a clear violation of intellectual property rights and has nothing to do with wealth or a lack thereof. "Who would walk to the roadside Starbung stall thinking it was Starbucks?" a person who used the name "Yaoharee" posted on the popular Pantip website.
"The big store sent a letter to warn the vendor but he ignored it. That is why he is faced with the lawsuit. Who would think the logo is not a copy?" another with the name "boonboon-sk" wrote.
For now, Mr Damrong said the dispute is serving him well as it has boosted his local brew business.
"I hope the issue continues," said Mr Damrong.
He is now selling about 150 cups of coffee each day, up from between 50 and 100 before the heavy media coverage of his battle with the coffee giant.
As for the court case, he said he can't afford a lawyer and will have to seek help from the Lawyers Council of Thailand.
"I won't run away, and nor will I be able to pay a fine. But I can serve a jail term if I have to," he said.
If found guilty, he could face punishment of two years in jail or a fine of up to 200,000 baht.
Starbucks said it was left with no choice but to take legal steps to protect its trademark after several attempts to resolve the issue amicably with Starbung were unsuccessful.
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