trademark wars

Chick-fil-A Wants Artist to Eat More Humble Pie

Posted by Mark J. Miller on December 5, 2011 01:15 PM

Chick-fil-A, the country’s second-largest chicken-restaurant chain, is not happy with a Vermont-based folk artist who has been making some extra cash for the past few years selling T-shirts and sweatshirts with the phrase “Eat More Kale” silk screened on them.

Haven’t heard about Chick-fil-A’s new kale-themed menu? Well, there isn’t one, but the company’s legal eagles are concerned that everyday consumers might confuse the kale campaign with their own “eat mor chikin” ads, misspelled because (of course) it's penned by cows.

The Associated Press reports that 38-year-old Bo Muller-Moore is not planning to stop making his shirts even though Chick-fil-A has sent him a cease-and-desist letter saying that his product "is likely to cause confusion of the public and dilutes the distinctiveness of Chick-fil-A's intellectual property and diminishes its value."

The citizens of Vermont, which has America’s 49th-lowest population, are outraged on Muller-Moore’s behalf. Governor Peter Shumlin is meeting with him Monday to try and help him with his cause, according to Vermont Public Radio. Also, fellow Vermonters are circulating a petition to show support for him in his fight. WCAX Vermont reports that the petition is up to 10,000 signatures.

Muller-Moore received a different cease-and-desist letter five years ago, the AP reports, and a lawyer exchanged notes with the company that eventually stopped. Last summer, the artist decided to file for a trademark for the “Eat More Kale” logo, but that is still pending, the AP reports. Now he’s got Chick-fil-A back on his trail and a new local lawyer on the case.

"Bo's is a very different statement (than Chick-fil-A’s),” said his lawyer, Daniel Richardson. “It's more of a philosophical statement about local agriculture and community-supported farmers markets. At the end of the day, I don't think anyone will step forward and say they brought an 'eat more kale' shirt thinking it was a Chick-fil-A product."

Vermont Law School professor Oliver Goodenough, a specialist in intellectual and property law, agreed. "This looks a bit like an example of over-enthusiasm for brand protection," he said, according to the Associated Press. "There are (law) firms in the United States that take this over-enthusiasm for brand protection seriously and believe the more they can scare away the better. If folks aren't deeply committed to this and it's a funny byproduct, maybe they won't fight it."

It sounds a bit like a situation this past summer when Kellogg filed suit against the tiny nonprofit Maya Archaeological Initiative to stop using a toucan in its logo in order to protect the copyright of the Froot Loops’ mascot Toucan Sam. Kellogg ended up striking a deal with MAI to share info about the Mayan culture on its cereal boxes and donate $100,000 to the organization.

In other Chick-fil-A news, Gothamist.com notes that New York City’s only franchise, which is “housed in a student cafeteria in an NYU dorm,” won’t be sent packing due to its anti-kale-T-shirt stance or its $1,733,699 in payments to groups with anti-LGBT affiliations in 2009.

A vote was taken by the NYU Student Senators Council to decide the issue and it was decided that no businesses would be chucked “due to their political or social stances.” However, any that “violate labor or human rights” can be dismissed, Gothamist reports.

The Chick-fil-A flap comes as the poultry chain gears up for the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl, which will see the Auburn Tigers and Virginia Tech Hokies facing off on Dec. 31.

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