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.

Filed Under: bulldozers, cat, clothing, coffee, construction equipment
Companies: cat & cloud coffee, caterpiller


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2019 @ 8:43pm

    Thanks to the #metoo movement, those who are long on Caterpillar in the options market are ostracized for their use of the CAT CALL.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2019 @ 8:54pm

    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...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 4 Jun 2019 @ 10:18pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 4 Jun 2019 @ 10:17pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      ryuugami, 5 Jun 2019 @ 5:17am

      Re: Little past that point

      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'.

      I'd give them a small PR win if they fully compensated the coffee shop for the money and time lost.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 5 Jun 2019 @ 1:42am

    Sharks will be fed

    If there's only small fish, you use tighter nets.

    Lawyers don't work short time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 5 Jun 2019 @ 6:09am

    Veterinarians will have to change their job descriptions

    "specializing in dogs and domestic felines"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 5 Jun 2019 @ 7:20am

    Cats

    CAT is an abbreviation, not an acronym. As least as far as I could see the letters don't form a TLA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2019 @ 7:20am

    So which CAT lawyer got his coffee order wrong?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 5 Jun 2019 @ 7:58am

    CAT

    Harming farmers and coffee companies alike.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 5 Jun 2019 @ 10:12am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 5 Jun 2019 @ 10:58am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 5 Jun 2019 @ 11:07am

    As an aside, I am disappointed...

    ...Cat and Cloud is exclusively a hipster coffee café and not a cat-petting café.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BernardoVerda (profile), 5 Jun 2019 @ 1:11pm

    Dear Techdirt.

    I think you need to use the tag "intellectual property" a lot more than you have been.
    Also, if possible, the tag should include quotation marks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Slow Joe Crow, 5 Jun 2019 @ 1:21pm

    They used to have more of a sense of proportion back in the 80s when Earthworm Tractor had Raterpillar as a joke trademark. Also the bit about Caterpillar being concerned about entering the clothing market strikes me as BS since Caterpillar brand boots and work wear have been around for years. Also how do you confuse a feline with an insect larva?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Darkness Of Course (profile), 5 Jun 2019 @ 2:19pm

    Well, change the name

    Pussy and Coffee.

    Of course, Caterpillar being complete jerks are already acting like big pussies so who meows what they will take offense to next.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2019 @ 8:05pm

    You know it's a case of a fucking dumb trademark enforcement when even the usual Poochies haven't shown up to make fun of Masnick...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Gabe, 6 Jun 2019 @ 5:25am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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