Dunkin Donuts coffee claim: Why Is It The 'Best Coffee In America'?

By Staff Reporter on November 27, 2012 9:25 AM EST

Dunkin' Donuts coffee
Dunkin' Donuts coffee (Photo: Dunkin' Donuts)

Dunkin' Donuts handed in a lengthy new application of more than 100 trademarks to the US Patent and Trademark Office last month but controversy has surfaced for one application in particular - Dunkin' Donuts sought to trademark "Best Coffee in America." The office rejected its trademark application.

According to the Trademark office, the claim associated with the "Best Coffee in America" trademark was "merely laudatory and descriptive." What's more, the office also said that the "informational slogan is nothing more than a claim of superiority."

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Elaborating on the decision, the office explained, "It is well established that a mark that consists of the generic name of a food that is the specialty of the house or a principal attraction of the restaurant has been held merely descriptive of restaurant services."

Responding to its trademark activity, Dunkin' Donuts spokesperson Jessica E.Gioglio says, "As a company with a more than 60-year heritage that is proud to be an American icon, Dunkin' Donuts sells more than 1.5 billion cups of hot and iced coffee globally every year. We are simply going through the trademark process."

Laudatory claims aside, is there a way to systematically rank coffee from Dunkin' Donuts as the best in America? Defending its claim, Dunkin' Donuts was first named "Best Coffee in America" in 2004 by Phil Lempert, the foods trend editor for NBC's "Today" show.

However, according to The Boston Globe, Dunkin' Donuts has ranked below Starbucks (#1) in the Zagat annual fast-food coffee survey for at least three years. It fact, Dunkin' Donuts is feeling the heat from McDonald's, which is ranked at a close third.

According to Joshua C. Krumholz, intellectual property lawyer and partner of the law firm Holland & Knight LLP, Dunkin' Donuts will have a difficult time protecting its trademark even if it gets registered. The description of "Best Coffee" is just way too common among other small local coffee shops.

Finally, Dennis Lombardi, the executive vice president of food service strategies at consultancy WD Partners, doubts the trademark filing would be an effective strategy at all.

Lombardi said, "In a time when transparency and authenticity are increasingly important to consumers, I'm not sure any kind of hyperbolic claim of being the best or the ultimate is the right way to go."

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