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Dunkin’ Donuts lays claim to ‘best coffee in America’ trademark

Dunkin’ Donuts has sought other trademark rights, but most are for specific products like “Coffee Coolatta.”

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Dunkin’ Donuts has sought other trademark rights, but most are for specific products like “Coffee Coolatta.”

Lots of brewers brag about having the best coffee in America. But Dunkin’ Donuts now wants the exclusive rights to the slogan.

The Canton coffee chain last week applied for the trademark “Best Coffee in America” with the US Patent and Trademark office. Records show it is one of more than 100 trademarks the company has sought, but most of the others are for specific products like “Coffee Coolatta” rather than claims of superiority.

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Dunkin’ Donuts secured a slightly narrower form of the trademark after it was named in 2004 as the “Best Coffee in America” by Phil Lempert, foods trend editor for NBC’s “Today” show. At the time, the filing slipped under the radar of java competitors like McDonald’s and Starbucks, which have increased pressure on the locally based company in recent years.

But Dunkin’ Donuts has been unable to displace Starbucks for at least three years as the top fast-food coffee in Zagat’s annual survey. Meanwhile, McDonald’s dislodged Dunkin’ Donuts from its second-place spot as the destination most preferred by coffee drinkers, according to a May 2009 survey by BIGResearch of more than 8,000 consumers.

Dunkin’ Donuts would not disclose on Wednesday what — if any — recent information the chain is using to back up its “Best Coffee in America” slogan. One reference on its website cites a January 2007 AOL.com online poll.

“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,” said Jessica E. Gioglio, a Dunkin’ spokeswoman. “We are simply going through the trademark process.”

A Starbucks representative could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and a McDonald’s representative declined to discuss Dunkin’ Donuts’ efforts. The Golden Arches recently filed its own trademark for ground and whole bean coffee, leading some industry observers to speculate that McDonald’s may start selling coffee by the bag.

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“As part of doing business, we register a number of trademarks to protect our brand equities. This is nothing new,” said Danya Proud, a McDonald’s spokeswoman. “Your question is speculative in nature and not something we can confirm or deny at this time.”

Even with the “Best Coffee in America” trademark, it could be difficult for Dunkin’ Donuts to stop other java brewers from using the slogan because it is such a common description for coffee, according to a Boston intellectual property lawyer.

“They would have a hard time protecting that,” said Joshua C. Krumholz, a partner with law firm Holland & Knight LLP.

Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of food service strategies at consultancy WD Partners, said he expects Dunkin’ Donuts’ competitors to challenge the concept. He also questioned whether it’s a smart strategic move.

“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,” Lombardi said.

Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jennabelson. Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.

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