Coffee hut will have to pass on its ‘buck’

ASTORIA, Ore. – A federal judge says the name “Sambucks” above a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop is too similar to coffee giant Starbucks and must be changed.

Owner Sam Buck opened the shop in 2000, naming it after herself.

She said Thursday that she had few details of a ruling by U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty in Portland. She faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

“The judge said I willfully infringed on (Starbucks’) trademark, that I diluted their trademark,” she said.

She was faced with erasing all traces of the name, including on coffee cups, the sign outside her business and her business cards.

“You’re throwing away thousands of dollars worth of stuff,” Buck said, “and you’re left paying thousands of dollars more to have new things made.”

She opened the shop in 2000, before Astoria had a Starbucks, and received a cease-and-desist letter from the Seattle-based company in March of 2002.

Starbucks, which licenses and operates more than 8,000 stores worldwide, offered Buck $500 to drop the name. She refused, and Starbucks sued.

She said she doubts people have trouble distinguishing her 10-foot-wide shop from a Starbucks, and that her business logo is not easily confused with that of Starbucks.

Starbucks has since opened a store in Astoria a mile east of her shop in a Safeway store.

Buck said she found out Tuesday night that she had lost.

Starbucks spokeswoman Lara Wyss said the company is “pleased with the court’s decision.

“While it is always Starbucks’ preference and desire to resolve disputes of this nature informally … we will seek the assistance of the courts to protect our trademark when we are unable to resolve the matter through alternate means,” Wyss said in an e-mail.

Buck says the legal costs will be a stretch, but she doubts she will close.

“It keeps your motivation going,” she said. “I think it will be OK.”

Community support has given her added incentive.

“We’re standing up for small business because corporate America is squeezing out the small businesses,” Buck said. “It’s real, and it’s going to happen if we don’t do something.”

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