Retail Team of the Year: Starbucks
In this year’s Brand Finance Global 500, Starbucks was again crowned the world’s most valuable restaurant brand following an impressive 27% growth in brand value to $32.4 billion. This significant rise came on the back of strong annual revenues and solid forecasts for the company. Reflecting this, Starbucks’ Brand Strength Index score increased 3% to 89.2 and the company retained a brand strength rating of AA. However, as with any successful brand, infringement is never far behind.
Batur Oktay, director and expert senior counsel, observes that the company has seen “an uptick in counterfeiting in places like China, India, Mexico and elsewhere” – largely due to its product expansion. “Searching has skyrocketed as Starbucks rolls out new beverages at the speed of light,” he notes.
To counter rampant infringement, the company relies on “a quilt of rights”, including trademark, patent, copyright and design rights, and will often initiate claims that include more than one type of intellectual property. However, before initiating claims, a number of factors are considered. “The team is good about checking in with each other, to ensure consistency in our approach across the globe,” Oktay explains. “We have developed a reputation as vigilant enforcers of our brand rights, but we temper our enforcement with soft approaches in most cases. Most infringement can be resolved amicably in our experience, and a soft approach helps.”
The team comprises four lawyers and eight paralegals, all of whom are based in Seattle, with the exception of one lawyer in Shanghai. “Nearly half of our global enforcement – nearly 1,200 matters – occurs in China, so having a lawyer there is necessary.” As to the characteristics of the team, Oktay is proud that the company hires bright people who are dedicated to its mission. “The paralegals, who handle an enormous volume of work, are truly outstanding at what they do. And, a sense of humour is paramount to success in this group!”
The team’s portfolio comprises around 24,000 trademarks, in addition to other rights, and is expanding rapidly, in synergy with the company’s ambitious growth plans. “Our registration strategy has to align to the business needs,” Oktay maintains. “Where we expand, and how, is really driven by what the company plans are. And from a purely legal perspective, one approach doesn’t always fit all markets, so we work with local counsel to adapt prosecution strategy as necessary.”
This local expertise is crucial. “The team checks in with each other regularly on new or borderline cases to ensure that we are consistent in our approach across jurisdictions,” Oktay replies, when asked for his top tips for other counsel with respect to maintaining vigilance across multiple markets. “Becoming aware of infringements is never an issue as we have so many customers and counsel who travel and inform us. But keeping close ties with local counsel, and ensuring that they understand our brands and business, is critical to successful policing of the brand.”