WSVN — His goal was to open a nice coffee shop on Miami Beach. He did, and then he got a call from Starbucks, telling him he had to change his logo and his company name. It's why he called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
Damian Gallo knows how to make a good cup of coffee.
Damian Gallo: "Oh, the barista? The barista is very good."
And when he saw an area on Miami Beach that didn't have a coffee shop, he saw an opportunity.
Damian Gallo: "We decided to open a coffee shop right next to the entrance of City Hall because we'd noticed there was a need for it. After a lot of work, all my savings and the city approval, we opened Stardust Coffee."
Stardust Coffee opened on 17th Street in Miami Beach in March, not only serving drinks, but pastries, sandwiches, hot meals. Customers noticed. So did a corporate giant out of Seattle, Washington.
Damian Gallo: "We got a phone call saying they were the attorneys for Starbucks Coffee, and they wanted to talk to us regarding the name, that they have a problem with our name, Stardust."
Mark Bowen is a prominent attorney in Broward County. He explained why Damian is being accused of a trademark violation.
Mark Bowen: "Trademarks are words or symbols that identify a source of goods or services, and when another company uses a mark that is likely to cause confusion in the marketplace, or in fact does cause confusion amongst consumers, that is trademark infringement."
This is Stardust's logo; this is Starbucks'. To Damian, two different looks.
Damian Gallo: "Our logo, as you can see, it's the coffee mug with the stars coming out, and I think their logo is a green mermaid."
Damian says Starbucks told him the logos were too similar, and he said the company had a problem with his business name as well. This time, Damian disagreed.
Damian Gallo: "Starbucks and Stardust. To me, they're two totally different words that are not similar at all. Starbucks didn't like the similitude of our name."
The request from Starbucks?
Damian Gallo: "They are asking me to remove the signs, to change my name, so I would have to reopen a new company with everything different."
Damian says the cost to do what Starbucks wants would be staggering.
Damian Gallo: "I'll say anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000. No, I don't have the money. The business is not paying itself. I don't have the money to do all these changes."
Damian says the attorney sent by Starbucks has been nice and polite, but he doesn't believe he should have to change anything. Howard, can Starbucks make him do that?
Howard Finkelstein: "Yes, they can. If they go to court, and Starbucks can convince a judge that the names and logos are similar enough to confuse a customer, the judge can force Stardust to change its name, its logo and even its menu, and that court battle would be very expensive for a small company to take on."
We contacted Starbucks. A spokesman wrote us that they have spent a lot of money over the past 44 years to develop their brand, and he added, "We're in discussions and want to work with Stardust to reach an amicable and mutually-agreeable solution."
And Damian says they are.
Damian Gallo: "They suggested a couple different names, always keeping the first part, that was Stardust, but they don't want the 'coffee' part."
Mark Bowen has offered to help Damian for free.
Starbucks has suggested a confidential deal which Damian can't discuss, but he can say Starbucks is willing to make the changes more affordable for him. He in turn has changed the shape and colors of his logo, but he wants to keep the name Stardust Coffee and not lose the word "coffee" on his sign.
Damian Gallo: "I'm not really happy about it. I think we have a name, and we would like to keep it."
Patrick Fraser: "Damian is still working with the attorney for Starbucks to try to make both sides happy, but two things are very clear. One: Damian's coffee is very good. And two: Starbucks has been very generous in trying to help Damian be able to afford the changes they want. That's nice to see from a big corporation."
The stars not lining up for you? Want to trade in the problem and mark it solved? Contact us. After a jolt of caffeine and a warm pastry, we will be ready to get to work for you. With this Help Me Howard, I'm Patrick Fraser, 7News.