Dunkin’ Donuts won’t be able to claim exclusive rights to the phrase “Best Coffee in America.”
The Patent and Trademark Office has tentatively rejected the Canton-based chain’s efforts to trademark the slogan, saying it is not distinctive enough to qualify for protection. The slogan “is merely laudatory and descriptive,” the agency ruled recently.
“Anyone at all can claim that their coffee is the ‘Best Coffee in America,’ ” said a Newton trademark attorney, Zick Rubin. “No one takes such a claim literally, and no one company can monopolize the phrase.”
Both Rubin and the trademark office noted the ruling has an obvious precedent. The maker of Sam Adams beer, Boston Beer Co., tried to trademark a similar slogan, “The Best Beer in America.” But the trademark office turned down the request, and an appellate court upheld the decision in 1999. The Boston brewer has continued to use the phrase anyway, but without trademark protection.
Many other companies claim to have the nation’s best joe. Dunkin’ noted on its website that its coffee won top marks in a 2007 AOL.com online poll. But Starbucks has topped Dunkin’ for at least three years in a row as the top fast-food coffee in Zagat’s survey.
Starbucks declined to comment.
Dunkin’ sells more than 1.5 billion cups of coffee a year around the world. It declined to say whether it planned to appeal the ruling. “We are reviewing the filing and cannot speculate on future plans at this time,” said a spokeswoman, Jessica Gioglio.
The ruling was not the first trademark defeat for Dunkin’. Earlier this year, the trademark office rejected Dunkin’s effort to trademark the phrase “Bagel Bunchkin” — referring to bite-size bagel pieces — saying it was too close to a supermarket’s brand of traditional bagels, “The Bagel Bunch.”