Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. is suing a competitor in Shanghai over use of their shared Chinese name.
updated 2/6/2004 11:46:10 AM ET 2004-02-06T16:46:10

In the land of tea, the world's best-known coffee chain is going to court to protect its name.

Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. is suing a competitor in Shanghai over use of their shared Chinese name, the company said Thursday — the latest in a growing number of copyright suits involving foreign firms here.

Starbucks said it filed the lawsuit on Dec. 23 against the Shanghai Xingbake coffee shop chain for trademark infringement after it was unable to settle out of court.

Both companies use the same three Chinese characters in their names — "Xingbake." In Chinese, "xing" means "star" and "bake" (bah-kuh) is a phonetic rendition of "-bucks."

The non-Starbucks company, Shanghai Xingbake, claims the name was registered as its company name, rather than as a trademark, making Starbucks' complaint invalid.

"We were disappointed that we were not able to come to an amicable agreement regarding this issue," Starbucks said in an e-mailed statement. "However, we will take legal steps to protect the value of our trademark, and protect the public from confusion and deception."

Starbucks has 37 stores in Shanghai and close to 100 in China, where it has hooked legions of middle-class customers after entering the market in 1999 with virtually no competition.

Xingbake is among the many smaller competitors hoping to give the global coffee giant a run for its money. General Manager Mao Yubo said his two-store chain had registered the name as its company title on March 9, 2000, before Starbucks had even applied.

He said Starbucks' suit was invalid because it alleged infringement of trademark rather than company name.

"We came first," Mao said. "We can't lose the case."

Foreign companies operating in China have increasingly turned to the law to protect their brands from rampant copyright piracy.

Chinese companies have also been turning to the courts to protect their names, something unheard of in the past.

Shanghai drinks maker Yaqing Industry and Trade has sued Coca Cola and its local bottler, claiming the characters for Coke's Qoo fruit drink — labeled "Ku-er" in Chinese — too closely resembled that of Yaqing's Kuhai drink.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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