Caterpillar Inc. Bullies Cat And Cloud Coffee Shop Over Its Store's Apparel

from the who's-confused? dept

One of the more frustrating aspects of the intersection of trademarks and business is how blind the law seems to be when it comes to recognizing the primary market in which a company operates. This is specifically an issue when it comes to merch and apparel, as many companies build up brand loyalty in their primary markets and then also move to sell clothing to those loyal fans. This all makes sense until these same companies get the USPTO to grant overly-broad trademarks for those ancillary markets, which are then used to bully smaller companies with the excuse being, “Hey, we have to protect our marks, or we lose them.”

A perfect example of this is the dispute currently going on between Caterpillar Inc., famed makers of tractor equipment and the like, and Cat & Cloud Coffee, which slings java.

The large corporation has trademarked “CAT” and has taken legal action against the small business to stop them from using it. Owners of the small business say they first received the letter in August of 2018.

“It seemed ridiculous. So, we responded and got a lawyer,obviously,” said Jared Truby, co-owner of Cat and Cloud Coffee. “We asked them to further explain their case, asked them to drop it as we are in a completely different industry. They didn’t want to, so we went back and forth a few times and called them out for bullying.”

Truby says when they opened the shop almost three years ago, they couldn’t have predicted something like this happening.

“Could anybody imagine a $54 billion machinery company coming after a coffee company? I don’t think that’s even in the cards,” said Truby. “The first biggest thing they want us to do is not print the name Cat and Cloud on anything again. I think that is unbelievable. I don’t think that’s going to hold up.”

For its part, Caterpillar has pushed back on the outcry over this, pointing out that the only trademark it is disputing is Cat & Cloud’s use of the word “cat” on merch and apparel, as Caterpillar sells an absolute ton of this stuff itself. It’s an attempt at claiming its being reasonable, but it very much is not.

First, a trademark on the the acronym “CAT” is plainly insane if it’s going to be used against apparel that uses the word “cat.” I would hope that is obvious to everyone. Such a generic trademark is simply not justified. On top of that, the coffee shop’s use of the word is a reference to a literal cat. The CAT mark, on the other hand, is a reference to a caterpillar. So we’re not even in the same taxonomic family. As you might expect, the branding on Cat & Cloud’s apparel looks nothing like Caterpillar’s.

It all kind of has that cutesy motif that is well suited for a coffee shop with a cute name and terribly suited if you’re trying to fool the public into thinking you’re a tractor company. Nobody looking at anything the shop sells on its site is going to somehow think Caterpillar is involved.

Which doesn’t mean the bullying won’t work. As is always the case in situations like this, the expense to defend itself could force Cat & Cloud’s hand.

“I guess the good news is if somebody is intimidated by our small little company in Santa Cruz, it means we’re doing something right,” said Truby. “It leads me to believe we’re doing something that’s far more important than I can see right now.”

Truby says they’ve spent nearly $10,000 already dealing with this case. He says not being able to sell apparel for extra income will have an impact on both employees and the business.

Here’s hoping they get the support to stick this out. Or that someone at Catepillar gets a whiff of this and wants to craft a PR win for itself by ceasing this bullying behavior.

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Companies: cat & cloud coffee, caterpiller

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Comments on “Caterpillar Inc. Bullies Cat And Cloud Coffee Shop Over Its Store's Apparel”

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Anonymous Coward says:

So out of all the media and companies that already use cats like "grumpy cat" they choose to go after a coffee company for its clothing. Because cats on clothes has obviously never appeared before and the fact that a coffee company had the audacity to print the word "cat" on cloth is going to irreparably damage Caterpillar Inc.’s attempt to branch out of the heavy machinery market into… clothes?

Just in case trademark advocates couldn’t pull off a stupider move to prove that yes, trademark litigants have a soul full of month-old dog shit…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"going to irreparably damage Caterpillar Inc.’s attempt to branch out of the heavy machinery market into… clothes?"

While the whole things is clearly ridiculous, the company do have a long-standing branding operation, which includes clothing. Nobody is realistically going to confuse the above items with theirs, but it’s not out of the ordinary for them to look into that market.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Little past that point

Or that someone at Catepillar gets a whiff of this and wants to craft a PR win for itself by ceasing this bullying behavior.

While it’s admirable and good PR when an opportunity is presented where someone could be an ass and chooses not to(the recent craft beer article comes to mind), acting like a thug, to the tune of costing the other person ten grand and counting, only to decide to stop being a thug is not something I’d call a ‘PR win’.

They’ve already got mud on their face from their thuggery here, the best they can manage now(barring an admission that they screwed up and paying the coffee shop’s legal fees) it to stop covering themselves in it even further.

John85851 (profile) says:

Lawyers need to bill hours somehow

Like other posters are saying, cats and cat apparel have been around for hundreds or thousands of years. Why is Caterpillar suddenly interested in this coffee shop? Why do they (or their lawyers) think someone will confuse a cartoony cat with the CAT/ Caterpillar brand?

To me, this sounds like a textbook example of hiring lawyers who then need to bill some hours, so they claim "we have to enforce to trademark" by picking on the smallest target they can find. Then when the coffee shop settles or they go bankrupt, Caterpillar’s lawyers will claim this as a "victory" and use it to go after more small coffee shops.
Then after they get enough wins (meaning, enough companies settled), then Caterpillar will go after larger targets, like Garfield the CAT or Felix the CAT.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

This reminds me of the McLawsuits

McDonalds once decided (right about when they launched their McClothes line in the 90s) that they were going to lock down every instance of McSomething used to sell food. If I recall correctly, they successfully stopped McSushi which later became We Be Sushi.

But then they ran into places like McNally’s, a steakhouse in the Sequoia Forest in California. The problem was that it remained a proprietorship under the family name, McNally. It didn’t go so well for McDonalds.

Nor do we have McClothes anymore, by coincidence.

Gabe says:

Interesting story and, as you’ve summized, a ridiculous case of trademark enforcement. But I have two nitpicky mistakes that are nagging me. CAT isn’t an acronym (the individual letters don’t stand for anything), it’s an abbreviation, and caterpillar is a heavy equipment (or construction equipment) company, barely dipping a toe into tractors. Maybe you’re thinking of CASE?

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