Eleven years ago, a farmer friend asked Montpelier folk artist Bo Muller-Moore to make a T-shirt for him that read "Eat More Kale." So, Muller-Moore went home, traced his fingers to make cutouts of the letters and printed the T-shirt, which he sold for $10. The logo took off, and a business was born.
Six years later, the legal department of Atlanta-based fast food giant Chick fil-A sent Muller-Moore a cease-and-desist order requesting "that I shut down my website and send them my inventory," says Muller-Moore. "They said I was confusing their customers and affecting their profits." Specifically, Chick fil-A was concerned with how eatmorekale.com conflicted with their marketing slogan and website, eatmorchikin.com.
Through a lawyer, Muller-Moore informed the company that he intended to continue, and took their ensuing silence to mean they were backing down. He kept making T-shirts and bumper stickers, his website stayed up, and business grew. This August, he decided to seek a federal trademark for "Eat More Kale." And in September, he experienced some déjà vu: Chick fil-A sent Muller-Moore another cease and desist letter, and also demanded that he withdraw his application for a federal trademark.
Chick fil-A has more than 1,560 locations nationwide and 2010 sales of $3.58 billion. As its website notes, the company sells 537 Chick fil-A sandwiches per minute, and its longstanding policy of closing every restaurant on Sunday is a testament to founder Truett Cathy's "faith in God."
By contrast, EatMoreKale.com sells markedly fewer t-shirts per year, though Muller-Moore shies from discussing numbers. He has given away 40,000 to 60,000 "Eat More Kale" stickers, and now sells them for donations via his website.
Muller-Moore is no stranger to copyright infringement. Over the years, he has encountered nine people trying to co-opt his folksy logo. So, seeking a federal trademark seemed an important step to take. "I needed a sharper sword than common law trademark," he says.
Understandably, Muller-Moore is puzzled that Chick fil-A sees his T-shirt business as a threat to their corporation. "This is legitimate David-versus-Goliath corporate bullying," says Muller-Moore. "I'm not a restaurant. I'm not a kale farmer. I'm a T-shirt artist." Muller-Moore says he has never made enough money on the emblem to support himself, though he is hopeful he might do so one day.
Muller-Moore's lawyer, Dan Richardson of Montpelier, notes that Chick fil-A has consistently tried to shut down businesses using a similar moniker. "What they're trying to do is own the marketplace. They've aggressively gone after anyone who has used the phrase 'eat more anything,'" says Richardson. He notes the case has whiffs of Monster Energy Drink's efforts to block Rock Art Brewery's Vermonster beer in 2009.
On Saturday, an acquaintance of Muller-Moore's set up a petition online to support Eat More Kale. By Monday, it had registered more than 600 signatures.
Calls to Chick fil-A's legal and corporate departments were not answered by press time.
This article has been corrected to reflect the correct nature of Chick fil-A's letter to Muller-Moore.