It’s hard out there for coffee brands trying to distinguish themselves among the sea of coffee roasters vying for a small sliver of the pie in this global economy. Doubly so when your branding isn’t entirely… original. And thus it is the case for two such coffee companies, Death Wish Coffee Company and Death Before Decaf Coffee, with the former suing the latter for trademark infringement.
As reported by the Times Union, Sarasota Springs, New York’s Death Wish Coffee filed a lawsuit at the end of August alleging infringement, unfair competition, and “free-riding on Death Wish Coffee’s goodwill and reputation” on the part of Death Before Decaf Coffee. The suit is the result of the Brisbane, Australia-based coffee roaster’s recent application for an extension of their Australian trademark registration with the US Patent and Trademark Office, indicating an intent to move into the American market. Death Wish Coffee started in 2012, two years before Death Before Decaf.
As one would imagine from two Deathy death death coffee companies, the brands share a similar aesthetic. The lawsuit notes that both sell coffee in black bags and feature skull-and-crossbones imagery in their branding; Death Wish’s is more of a straight-ahead skull and crossbone whereas Death Before Decaf draws from tattoo design and culture and uses crossed portafilters in place of bones. The lawsuit also alleges DBD’s “edgy, rebellious” social media marketing as well as their use of the word “Death” in their company name infringes upon Death Wish’s brand identity.
Because nothing says edgy and rebellious like litigiousness.
In response, Death Before Decaf states through their lawyer that “the lawsuit by Death Wish Coffee is entirely baseless. Death Before Decaf is prepared to fight for a just outcome.” Death Wish is seeking damages as well as a denial of the extension of Death Before Decaf’s Australian trademark.
Whatever the outcome, let this be a lesson to all fledgling coffee companies: pick a unique name and don’t rely on tired coffee tropes. Not only is there the potential for confusion but there is the added headache of having to protect your trademark from like-sounding interlopers lest you risk losing it entirely. So while, yes, every coffee DOES have a story, an equal number of coffee roasters have some variation of that as their tagline.