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Is a construction company right in suing a cafe over the word cat?

By June 2, 2019No Comments

(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

I’ve always wondered about a small dry-cleaning business in South Philadelphia. I must have driven by that place a thousand times since I was a child on the way to Phillies games. It’s their sign that always gets my attention. It’s a character from a Disney movie. And they’re using the name of the movie and beloved character as their business name.

This seems to be a trademark infringement and maybe because the business has been around for so long, the original owners cut a deal with Disney. Or maybe Disney rightly figures it’s not worth the effort – and the media attention – to go after a small business that clearly means nothing to their corporate profitability. If that’s the case, then good for Disney.

Unfortunately, Caterpillar – the giant, $54.7bn, maker of tractors, farm and construction equipment – sees things differently. Executives there don’t seem to have a problem going after others that they see infringing on their brand, even if it’s a small coffee shop in Santa Cruz, California.

The shop is called Cat & Cloud Coffee, and their use of the word Cat caught the attention of Caterpillar. So much so that the industrial giant has filed a cease and desist order.

“We are not suing Cat & Cloud, not targeting a small business and not focused on Cat & Cloud’s primary interest: coffee,” Caterpillar said in a statement. “We’ve simply asked the US Trademark Office to remove Cat & Cloud’s trademark registration on footwear and apparel only, products for which Caterpillar has longstanding trademarks and a considerable business. We hope to resolve this issue quickly.”

Now go ahead, check me on this – I looked all over Cat & Cloud Coffee’s website and the apparel it’s selling and I’m not seeing any connection between this small business and Caterpillar other than the use of the word Cat. But even though a dry-cleaning shop has been literally using the name and image of a beloved Disney character for decades yet has been ignored by one Fortune 100 company, this little coffee shop is being attacked by another because they’re using the word Cat? Cat? Am I missing something?

If I am, then so are others. “I don’t think anyone correlates the Caterpillar company with their big yellow massive trucks with a small cafe,” one customer told a local news station. “I don’t think I would ever confuse the two of them. It doesn’t make sense to me,” said another.

The owners of Cat & Cloud Coffee are, of course, frustrated and upset. But they’re doing the right things. They’re fighting. They’re taking the case to social media. They have a petition going that already has thousands of signatures. They’re getting media exposure – like this column – to make their case more known.

In the end, if Caterpillar wants to pursue this they’ve got more resources to do so. So what would you do if this happened to your small business? Fight or compromise? In the end it’s not going to come down to who’s right or wrong. It’s going to be about what makes the most economic sense.

But c’mon, Caterpillar. Don’t your people have other things to do to keep them busy? If Disney doesn’t seem to care about a dry cleaning shop in Philly should you really care about a little coffee shop in Santa Cruz?

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