In recent weeks, the legal battle between Starbucks, the international coffee giant, and Starbung, a small vendor in the Khao San area, has captured public attention.
Starbucks has accused the vendor, Damrong Maslae, who has run the push-cart coffee business with his brother Damras for 15 years, of trademark infringement. The coffee giant has taken the case to the Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, demanding an injunction.
It has also filed other complaints, demanding compensation of 300,000 baht, plus 7.5% interest a year, in addition to a monthly payment of 30,000 baht and legal fees, in its suit alleging a trademark act breach.
Mr Damrong maintains his green-and-white logo is inspired by his religion _ Islam _ with symbols that unmistakably represent halal, stars and the crescent moon. Green, he insisted, is the colour of Islam.
Bung (shortened from Abang or older brother in Bahasa Malay) is a word generally used for an adult Muslim male.
Mr Damrong refuses to relinquish the Starbung trade logo and has vowed to "fight until the end".
The case has also drawn the international media's attention, with Mr Damrong giving an interview to The Guardian newspaper in the UK and also a Japanese newspaper.
He told The Guardian that his sweet black brew was often praised by customers as "tastier than that of Starbucks". Surely, that's a claim the management of the coffee giant would find hard to swallow.
As the fight drags on, social media has become divided. On one side, people have thrown their support behind the coffee giant. The coffee vendor has violated the property rights law and deserves maximum punishment. It's a matter of principle and the case must set an example.
On the other side are those who sympathise with the vendor. He is a breadwinner who has six children to feed. Except for plagiarism, he has conducted his business with honesty.
He is a self-made entrepreneur. He doesn't pretend to be a top barista. You can't find a latte, cappuccino, or frappuccino on his cart. There are only regular hot/iced coffee and tea, plus Ovaltine, cocoa, and some plain carbonated drinks.
So, the charge against Mr Damrong is, this group of people believes, a case of overreacting, if not bullying, by the giant coffee trader, while the matter seems to have brewed up sentiment against globalised trade.
Yes, this is a morality dilemma.
Are those who want the maximum punishment _ making the vendor pay the hefty fine, plus monthly interest, and relinquish his trade logo _ heartless?
Should we side with Damrong, and close one eye to the law on intellectual property rights?
I'd say intellectual property rights are not such a serious issue in Thai society.
Take, for example, the case of the show huay mom-and-pop shop campaign launched this year by Deputy Commerce Minister Nattawut Saikuar.
The campaign was short-lived, following criticism that the song which the minister (whose job is to overlook intellectual rights) claimed to have penned himself, in fact contained melodies similar to a famous Western song dedicated to a legendary boxer.
And I am certain many still remember the table linen made by the Social Development and Human Security Ministry which, despite the ministry's strong denials, looks very Louis Vuitton.
No matter how you see it, Damrong insists he and Starbucks aim at different markets.
Starbucks targets high-end coffee drinkers while his patrons are those in the lower-income range, people on the streets, and some foreign backpackers in the Khao San and Phra Athit area.
If you accept this argument, Damrong is not stealing patrons from the global coffee trader.
It's a different matter when a consumer buys cheap counterfeit or copied goods, as he or she is causing losses to the manufacturer of the genuine item.
I don't think the vendor's patrons buy his coffee for the same reason as the fans of brandname items who opt for counterfeit goods instead.
They don't pretend to drink a Starbucks coffee. At least before the lawsuits became news, no one would have posed with a Damrong coffee for a "selfie" _ unlike many Starbucks customers.
Similarly, I don't think Starbucks patrons would switch to the vendor's product merely to save money.
We don't know how the court case will eventually unfold, but the fight with the coffee giant has boosted Starbung's trade. No need for the coffee giant to be envious, though.
Ploenpote Atthakor is deputy editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.
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