From Starbungs to Bung's Tears, but business is good

From Starbungs to Bung's Tears, but business is good

Starbungs bows to giant Starbuck's wishes but becomes local hero, celebrity & tourist attraction in the process.


Bad news brings bigger 'bucks'

A trademark infringement lawsuit has turned into unexpected good fortune for a smalltime coffee vendor


Sirinya Wattanasukchai

A court battle with corporate coffee giant Starbucks over intellectual property rights became a blessing in disguise for a famous coffee stall once named "Starbung Coffee".

Roadside coffee vendor Damrong Maslae, previously known only among locals and tourists on Phra Athit Road, was painted as a hero of the small people on social media sites over a trademark infringement case against the multinational coffee chain.

Damrong continued to use his copycat logo for over a year despite the legal objection of Starbucks. The street barista eventually relented, surprising his customers by changing the name of his stall to "Bung's Tears", and putting up a sign showing a man in a Muslim cap crying. This replaced the few-week-old "Style Bung Coffee" sign, which was the initial substitution of the contentious "Starbung" logo.

At the lower right corner of the "Bung's Tears" sign, however, text informs us that the sign is just a temporary one. Some liked the new logo for its sarcasm, while others disapproved of it for being too sad.

"I need to keep my sense of humour on the logo," said the 43-year-old owner.

Though the months-long case's outcome disappointed some of Damrong's social media fans and customers, the out-of-court settlement with Starbucks has had a positive impact on the street vendor.

While Starbucks successfully maintained its trademark, Damrong won international recognition, being featured in media across the globe, including Time's newsfeed, The Guardian and the South China Morning Post.

"This is a win-win case," said Wutnipong Warakraisawad, director of administrative affairs at Bangkok University's School of Entrepreneurship and Management. "Bung became known to the crowd outside [Damrong's] neighbourhood."

As an underdog being sued by a giant, Damrong garnered much support from those who admired his bravery in his fight against the business titan. Some, on the other hand, found the sign too similar to that of Starbucks', believing Damrong should indeed take down the green logo, which he claimed represented his Islamic religion.

Starting his coffee stall without a name in 2008, Damrong was given the nickname "Starbung" by young customers from the nearby universities. "Bung" is a friendly term meaning "brother" in Malay.

Laem Phujadkuan, a famous political cartoonist from the Manager Group, was a regular customer and created the parodic logo in late 2010. The round sign was green and white, and featured a Muslim man in its centre.

Laem meant the original Starbung Coffee logo as parody, not trademark infringement. It never crossed his mind that the coffee giant would file a lawsuit against a street vendor. Everyone knew the logo was created out of a sense of humour, he said.

But the cartoonist realised later that ''Starbucks wasn't laughing along'' when Damrong was contacted by a Thai legal firm representing the multinational.

''I didn't mean to violate the law,'' said Damrong. ''But I couldn't understand the legal terms in the formal letter.''

This was the reason he kept the controversial sign on his stall for several months after receiving the notice.

Damrong never expected a global coffee chain with thousands of outlets worldwide to risk its reputation on a small street vendor who couldn't possibly be a business rival. His coffee is sold for 15 to 25 baht per cup. He must sell at least four cups of coffee to be able to buy a single iced Americano from his so-called competitor.

Damrong's position was further strengthened when an American customer told him that anyone from the United States could differentiate between Starbucks and Starbung.

The prices alone could never cause anyone to mistake Starbung for the famous Starbucks, said Wutnipong. The Starbung logo probably wasn't created to lure customers into thinking that they were buying Starbucks coffee, but the he said that such parody certainly benefited Damrong.

An infringed logo doesn't have to share an exact element of a copyrighted font, shape or style, explained Wutnipong. If a logo reminds a customer of another logo at first glance, it is considered infringement. It is standard practice for a copycat to be withdrawn, and Damrong eventually agreed to design his own logo for Bung's Tears.

But the Starbucks image might have been slightly damaged for protecting their own trademark, said Wutnipong. In this case, most Thais felt the street vendor was being bullied by the coffee giant over a trivial issue.

Like it or not, his logo has become a main attraction in the area, drawing a larger crowd for reasons other than the taste of his brew. Many came to take photos of the new logo, while others encouraged Damrong to start a franchise. Since the logo dispute, his sales volume has increased dramatically from 50 to 100 cups to more than 150 to 200 cups per day.

Damrong doesn't agree with the idea of franchising his business, he said, but that doesn't mean the stall vendor isn't a visionary. He wants a sole vending cart to keep his brand unique, so customers will have to come to Phra Athit Road if they want to taste his coffee.

''It's the only place in the world [to buy it],'' he said. After the settlement, the coffeemaker had to thank Starbucks for making him world-famous.

''I'm planning to serve my coffee in a mug with my own logo on it,'' Damrong said.

Note: In a statement issued by Starbucks earlier this month, the company said it didn't wish Damrong to cease business operation, but to use a different logo. It had tried to settle the case informally but Damrong refused to take down the sign, forcing the company to take legal action.

The Starbung Coffee owner eventually agreed on Sunday to replace the sign with Bung's Tears - one day before the case's judgement. Starbucks did not release a statement after the settlement and declined to comment on the issue.

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  • attraction: something that creates interest and brings people to see it - การดึงดูดความสนใจ
  • battle: a fight; serious disagreement, strong competition, etc. - การต่อสู้
  • benefit: to get help or an advantage from something - ผลประโยชน์
  • blessing in disguise: something that happens to you that helps you, even though it does not look helpful -
  • brew: to make a liquid through a process, especially beer - ปรุง
  • buck: one US dollar -
  • cap: hat - หมวก
  • cartoonist: person who makes cartoons - นักเขียนการ์ตูน
  • case: a matter that is being officially investigated or heard by a court - คดี
  • chain: a group of businesses (restaurants, hotels, etc.) owned by the same company - บริษัทต่างๆที่อยู่ในเครือเดียวกัน
  • competitor: a person, team or company that is competing against others - ผู้แข่งขัน, คู่แข่ง
  • consider: to regard as; to think of as - ถือว่า
  • contentious: causing or likely to cause disagreement - ซึ่งโต้เถียงกัน, ซึ่งเป็นที่ถกเถียงกัน
  • continued: happening or existing for a period of time without interruption - ซึ่งติดต่อกัน, ซึ่งต่อเนื่องกัน
  • controversial: causing disagreement or disapproval - ความไม่ลงรอยกัน
  • copycat: similar to something else and considered to be a copy of it - เลียนแบบ
  • copyright: the legal right to control the production and selling of a book, play, film, photograph or piece of music - ลิขสิทธิ์
  • corporate: involving large companies - บริษัทใหญ่
  • court: the place where legal trials take place and where crimes, etc. are judged - ศาล
  • crowded: packed; full of people or things - แน่น
  • despite (prep): used to show that something happened or is true although something else might have happened to prevent it; used to show that somebody did not intend to do the thing mentioned - ถึงอย่างไรก็ตาม, ทั้ง ๆ ที่
  • differentiate: to see or show a difference between things - แยกแยะระหว่าง
  • disapproving (adj.): showing that you do not like/approve of somebody/something - ซึ่งไม่เห็นด้วย, ซึ่งไม่ยอมรับ
  • dispute: a serious disagreement - การโต้เถียง, ความขัดแย้ง
  • dramatically: in a big way - อย่างใหญ่หลวง
  • draw: to attract or interest somebody, often to cause them to go somewhere - ดึงดูดความสนใจ
  • encourage: to cause someone to want to do something - กระตุ้น ให้การสนับสนุน
  • eventually: at the end of a period of time or at the end of a process - ในที่สุด
  • exact (adj.): done, made, or described in a very thorough way, with all the details correct - ถูกต้องแม่นยำ
  • fan (noun): a person who likes something very much such as a famous singer or TV show - คนคลั่งในสิ่งหนึ่งสิ่งใด,คนคลั่ง
  • formal: very correct and suitable for official or important occasions - เป็นพิธีการ
  • fortune: luck - โชค
  • franchise: a formal agreement for someone to sell a company’s products or services in a particular place - การขายระบบแฟรนไชนส์ คือมีสาขาของร้านค้า เช่น 7-eleven
  • glance: to look quickly at something/somebody - แวบมอง, ชายตามอง, เหลือบดู
  • global: throughout the world - ทั่วโลก
  • hero: a person, especially a man, who is admired by many people for doing something brave or good - วีรบุรุษ
  • inform: to tell somebody about something, especially in an official way - แจ้งให้ทราบ
  • infringe: to break a law or rule; to limit somebody's legal rights - ฝ่าฝืน, ละเมิด
  • infringement: breaking a rule, law, etc. - การฝ่าฝืน,การละเมิด
  • initial: early; first - เบื้องต้น
  • intellectual property: something that someone has created or invented and that no one else is legally allowed to make, copy, or sell - ทรัพย์สินทางปัญญา
  • issue (verb): to officially announce - ออกประกาศ
  • lawsuit: a case that a court is asked to decide involving a disagreement between two people or groups - คดีที่ยื่นฟ้องต่อศาล
  • legal: relating to the law or lawyers - เกี่ยวกับกฎหมาย
  • locals: people who live in a particular place - ชาวบ้าน
  • logo: a printed design or symbol that a company or an organization uses as its special sign - โลโก้, เครื่องหมาย
  • lure: to attract someone/something - ล่อใจ, หลอกล่อ, ยั่วยวน
  • mistake (noun): something that you do that is not correct, an error - ความผิดพลาด, ข้อผิดพลาด,ความเข้าใจผิด
  • mug: a tall cup for drinking from, usually with straight sides and a handle - เหยือก
  • multinational (noun): a company that operates in many different countries - บรรษัทข้ามชาติ, บริษัทระหว่างประเทศ
  • notice: information or a warning about something that is going to happen - การแจ้ง, การแจ้งล่วงหน้า
  • objection: a statement that shows that you disagree with a plan, or a reason for your disagreement - การแถลงการคัดค้าน
  • original: existing at the beginning of a particular period, process or activity - ซึ่งเป็นแบบฉบับ, ต้นกำเนิด
  • outcome: a result - ผล
  • outlet (noun): a shop or place where a particular product is sold - ร้านขายสินค้า, ร้านขายสินค้าจากโรงงาน
  • parody (noun): a piece of writing, music, acting, etc. that deliberately copies the style of somebody/something in order to be amusing - การเขียนล้อเลียน, การแต่งเพลงล้อเลียน
  • position: stance; an attitude or view about an issue that you state clearly; position - จุดยืน
  • practice: a way of doing something - การปฏิบัติ
  • previous: happening or existing before the event or object that you are talking about - แต่ก่อน, เมื่อก่อน
  • realise (verb): to know about - ตระหนัก  รู้
  • relent: stop - หยุด
  • remind: to make someone think of something they have forgotten or might have forgotten - เตือนความจำ
  • replace: to change from one thing to another - แทน
  • reputation: the opinion people have about how good or bad someone or something is - ชื่อเสียง
  • right: a moral or legal claim to have or get something or to behave in a particular way - สิทธิ
  • risk: to cause someone or something to be in a dangerous situation - เสี่ยงอันตราย
  • rival: a person you are competing against or opposing - คู่แข่ง
  • sarcasm: saying or writing the opposite of what you mean - การเขียนหรือพูดเสียดสี แดกดัน
  • sense of humour: the ability to know when something is funny, and to laugh at funny situations - อารมณ์ขัน
  • shape: the form of the outer edges or surfaces of something - รูปร่าง, รูปทรง, โครงร่าง
  • share: to have or use something at the same time as someone else - ใช้ร่วมกัน
  • smalltime (adj.): doing some activity in a small way -
  • so-called: used for saying that a particular word is usually used for referring to someone or something - ที่เป็นที่รู้กัน
  • social media: the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue, e.g., Facebook, Twitter, etc. - เครือข่ายสังคมออนไลน์
  • stall: a large table or a small building that is open at the front, used for selling things (or for giving people information) - รถ หรือแผงขายของ
  • standard: average or normal rather than having special or unusual features - ซึ่งเป็นมาตรฐาน
  • statement: something that you say or write that gives information or an opinion - แถลงการณ์, คำแถลง
  • substitution: taking the place of somebody/something else; using somebody/something instead of somebody/something else - การเปลี่ยนตัว, การแทนที่, การสับเปลี่ยน
  • taste (noun): the different feelings or sensations you get from food when you eat - รส
  • tears (noun): drops of water that come from your eyes when you cry or when something (dust, gas, etc.) has entered your eyes - น้ำตา
  • temporary: done or used for only a limited period of time, i.e., not permanent - ชั่วคราว
  • term (noun): a word or phrase used for something - คำศัพท์
  • trademark (noun): a name, symbol or design that a company uses for its products and that cannot be used by anyone else - เครื่องหมายการค้า
  • unexpectedly (adv.): in a surprising way because you were not expecting it - อย่างไม่คาดฝัน, อย่างน่าประหลาดใจ
  • vendor: someone who sells something, but often not in a shop - พ่อค้าแม่ค้าแผงลอย
  • vendors: people who sell things, e.g., food or newspapers, usually outside on the street - พ่อค้าแม่่ค้าหาบแร่แผงลอย
  • violate: to do something that is against a law, rule or agreement - ฝ่าฝืน, ละเมิด
  • volume (noun): an amount of something - ปริมาณ
  • withdraw: to take away - ถอน
  • worldwide: throughout the world - ทั่วโลก
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