When people in New Jersey think about an early-morning coffee or sweet treat, the Dunkin’ Donuts name may be one of the first things that come to mind. The brand is well-known nationally and internationally for its doughnuts, donut-hole treats and coffee beverages. It has also garnered attention for its announced plans to rebrand itself in January 2019, dropping the term “Donuts” and becoming simply “Dunkin'”. Some have argued that it is an attempt to make the brand seem more health-conscious, while the company noted that it is because it is focusing more heavily on coffee, a major driver of daily visits to the chain stores.
The company’s trademarks highlight some interesting points about how they are protected under American law. In fact, the word “donuts”, popularized by the company, is now widely accepted as an accurate spelling of the name of its specialty baked goods. By becoming so widely accepted and, indeed, generic, “donuts” is no longer a specific trademark of the Dunkin’ brand. Some argue that it is dropping the word from its brand because it is no longer a protected trademark and, thus, its removal strengthens the company’s new, shorter mark.
Over the years, the company has strongly protected “Dunkin'” but not the word “donuts”. It may not have truly been possible to prevent the latter from seeping into popular consciousness, but it can be important for new companies to keep this concept in mind when considering their own trademarks and future marketing plans.
Rebranding can be a challenging process for a company, especially one with widespread consumer recognition and valuable trademarks. An intellectual property attorney can work with people and companies to protect their brands and develop a usage and enforcement plan for their marks.