Starbucks caught in trademark row over teatime treat

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 October, 2013, 1:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 October, 2013, 9:57pm

A couple of years ago American baker Bea Vo, proud proprietor of the much-admired London tearooms Bea's of Bloomsbury, crossed a doughnut with a muffin to produce a cake-like type of doughnut filled with jam.

It wasn't a new idea - Nigella Lawson had a recipe for jam doughnut muffins years ago - but Vo's version, made with raspberry jam, buttermilk and nutmeg, proved popular with her customers, who christened it the duffin.

It features in her 2011 cookbook, Tea with Bea, sells like hot duffins in her four cafes and on her website, and has been widely written about.

So Vo was taken aback last week to be alerted via Twitter that Starbucks had just launched a product that took "the best of a muffin - that moist texture, the iconic shape - and mixed it up with elements of a traditional jam-filled doughnut". Filled with raspberry jam and with "a hint of nutmeg added to its buttermilk base", it was called the Duffin.

And the multinational has gone further. Its factory supplier, Rich Products, has trademarked the name Duffin, which Bea fears could give them "the legal power to stop us using the name for our own creation". While conceding that "since we launched ... we've started to hear about a few other versions out there", Starbucks has told her it "conducted an extensive search" and found "no indication that anyone else was using the name, nor retailing a similar product".

Bea says a Google search for "duffin cakes" or "doughnut muffin duffins" returns several dozen references to her product.

"I never trademarked the name duffin because I didn't think it was necessary," she says. "We are a tiny independent - can we afford to fight this trademark and any future cease-and-desist letter? No."

Starbucks says it won't use the trademark to stop Bea selling duffins. Judging by people's sympathetic comments towards Vo on Twitter and Starbucks' blog, it's probably just as well.