American Runs on Dunkin’ and Other Franchise Marks

Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. unsuccessfully sought trademark protection for the phrase “Best Coffee in America.”  The Trademark Examiner found that Dunkin’s slogan was nothing more than a claim of superiority. Since the phrase is highly laudatory and descriptive of the quality of the coffee featured, it was not protectable under Trademark Law. Imagine having a monopoly on the use of that phrase? It would certainly disadvantage competitors and others in the same industry. The examining trademark attorney cited similar denials for trademark registration by brew maker Sam Adams’ “The Best Beer in America” and Carvel’s attempt to register “America’s Freshest Ice Cream.” The mark “fits firmly in the category of marks identified…as being mere ‘puffery’ and incapable of functioning as a trademark.” The function of a trademark is to indicate the source of applicant’s services or distinguish applicant’s services from those of others. Phrases that claim quality do not do that. Dunkin’ Donuts may continue to use the slogan, albeit without trademark protection.

Dunkin’ brands was also denied registration for its “Bagel Bunchkin” product name. The Trademark Examiner found that mark was confusingly similar to another mark, “the Bagel Bunch” for bagels.

Franchises understand the importance of protecting their brand. Dunkin Donuts has protected marks on its restaurant names (Dunkin’ Donuts), its promotional slogans (such as Dunkin’ Perks and America Runs on Dunkin’), its coffee products (such as Dunkin’ Turbo and Dunkin’ Dark), its apps (such as Dunkin’ Mobile) and other parts of its successful brand image. Researching for this article, I came across some applications for a new energy drink, Dunkin’ Energy. They protected the name prior to product launch so no one could sneak in and take it while they were building the campaign and getting the product made.

This is a great model for how to aggressively, and successfully, protect your brand. An experienced trademark attorney can help you develop a strong brand protection program for your company.