Local branding or borrowing trade dress?

See this story from the SeattlePI.com.

This is a little bit of old news by now, but apparently Starbucks has been “localizing” its stores by minimizing the Starbucks branding an giving them an independent coffee shop look and feel. I have heard some people say that this is proof that Starbuck’s brand is toast, but I don’t think so. Its not uncommon for large businesses to diversify their products and sell them under different brands. Aldi and Trader Joe’s are the same company with different brands that reflect different portions of the grocery market.

Trade dress is the overall “look and feel” of a business. I can’t tell from the pictures, but if Starbucks did in fact copy the trade dress of another local store they could be in trademark trouble. The look and feel of a business can be protected as trade dress. See for example this classic case between two rival taco restaurants, Taco Cabana and Two Pesos. Anything that identifies your business, and your business alone can be protected because customers will come to associate that thing with your business. Names and logos are most popular, but trade dress counts as well.