More than one unicorn? Brooklyn coffee shop sues Starbucks over pink Frappuccino

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Thanks to social media, the chain "eclipsed" the café's product and "caused customer confusion," says lawsuit.

After watching Starbucks’ "Unicorn Frappuccino" become a viral success, a coffee shop in New York City is claiming it was the first to mix a drink with pink and blue sugars and dub it "unicorn."

Last Wednesday, The End Brooklyn, located in Williamsburg, and parent company Montauk Juice Factory, filed a lawsuit against the coffee conglomerate for infringing on its intellectual property—a drink called "Unicorn Latte" it began selling in December 2016, more than a year ahead of Starbucks’ social goldmine. The brand even applied to trademark the name in January. In the lawsuit, the Williamsburg coffee shop writes that the Unicorn Frappuccino caused "irreparable damage" to its business, even though the chain’s drink was available for only five days.

"The size and scope of Starbucks’ product launch was designed so that the Unicorn Frappuccino would eclipse the Unicorn Latte in the market," reads the lawsuit.

Besides the number of Starbucks locations, The End Brooklyn said the reason the Unicorn Frappuccino "eclipsed" its own beverage is largely thanks to social media.

"Starbucks’ sophisticated social media apparatus ensured that Unicorn Frappuccinos became a viral sensation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram," says the lawsuit. "This, in turn, immediately caused consumer confusion."

The company claims that customers started to confuse the drinks online, assuming that The End Brooklyn’s product was a knockoff. "Starbucks’ products began appearing on social media labeled with the hashtag #unicornlatte."

It’s true that Starbucks saw high social media engagement for the short time the drink was available. Since April 12, the day before the Unicorn Frappuccino was announced, the drink has been mentioned more than 233,000 times, with 69.9 percent of mentions representing positive sentiment, according to Brandwatch.

In a statement, Starbucks admitted social media helped invent the product, but not The End Brooklyn. "The Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino blended beverage was inspired by the fun, spirited and colorful unicorn-themed food and drinks that have been trending in social media," said the brand.

The lawsuit, however, does point out that when the Unicorn Latte first came out, it received attention from social media and the press, with outlets from The New York Times to The Huffington Post writing about the drink.

Both drinks are blended and contain no coffee. They also look similar, with bright pink and blue hues standing out against a milky white background. However, they differ when it comes to ingredients. The lawsuit describes the Unicorn Latte as: "A freshly-made blended beverage containing fresh ingredients such as cold-pressed ginger, lemon juice, dates, cashews blended with additional healthy, dried ingredients such as maca root, blue-green algae and vanilla bean." Meanwhile, the Unicorn Frappuccino remains somewhat mysterious with its pink powder, blue sour drizzle and mango syrup.

While Starbucks is no longer selling the limited-edited drink, The End Brooklyn is requesting that Starbucks discontinue any use of the name of Unicorn Frappuccino, "pay over to Plaintiffs all gains, profits and advantages," including attorney fees, as well as publish a statement online for six months "correcting the confusion."

 @IlyseLiffreing