When Bo Muller-Moore filed a trademark claim for the phrase “Eat More Kale” in 2011, Chick fil-A wasn’t happy: The company sent the Vermonter a cease-and-desist letter and threatened legal action against Muller-Moore’s screen printing business.
But now, it looks as if fast food chain will have to live with it, as the U.S. Trademark and Patent office approved Muller-Moore’s application this week.
“Eat More Kale” sounds a little bit like “eat mor chickin’,” the slogan of the Chick fil-A chain. (“Mor chickin'” is spelled like that because, um, a fictional cow wrote it.) Chick fil-A launched that particular campaign in 1995. So when Muller-Moore filed his trademark application three years ago, Chick fil-A did what it normally does when it thinks its #brand is in danger: It sent Muller-Moore a strongly worded letter telling him to stop using the slogan.
According to the AP, the letter cited 30 other examples of “eat more [insert food here]” slogans that were stopped when the fast food chain intervened.
Muller-Moore instead decided to proceed with his application, since he’d been making shirts with the slogan commercially since 2003, according to trademark office records. He enlisted some pro bono legal aid. And it looks like it paid off for him.
“Chick-fil-A can keep serving chicken and I get to keep printing EAT MORE KALE t-shirts,” Muller-Moore said in an e-mailed statement. “While I never would have dreamed it would take the USPTO so long to decide on my trademark case, I’m thrilled that reason prevailed and Chick-fil-A has to eat some crow.”
The folk artist also hoped that his victory would mean the fast food company’s “trademark bullying spree can come to an end.”
Chick fil-A spokeswoman Carrie Kurlander’s response to the kale decision, according to the AP: “Cows love kale, too.”
But this is more than just a story about a guy who appears to be the living, breathing embodiment of Vermont ideals getting to sell his “Eat More Kale” T-shirts. The evidence for that? The trademark victory was also hailed by Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D).
“The message is out: Don’t mess with Vermont. And don’t mess with Bo,” Shumlin said in a statement. “This isn’t just a win for the little guy who stands up to a corporate bully; it’s a win for our state. In Vermont, we care about what’s in our food, who grows it, and where it comes from.”
(Muller-Moore, by the way, lives in Vermont but was born in Alabama.)
Shumlin, along with some members of Vermont’s congressional delegation, got involved with the Eat More Kale campaign after Muller-Moore’s small business gained significant attention for what he framed as a David vs. Goliath fight. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) credits the stand-off with partially inspiring a 2010 update to trademark laws that he authored. The measure required a Commerce Department study into how large businesses use trademark laws against smaller businesses.
“Laws that protect the intellectual property rights are crucial to U.S. creativity and our economy,” Leahy said in a statement. “But we’ve also seen in the past how trademark laws can be misused by deep-pocketed corporations to bully small businesses. This is a happy ending to a long struggle for a Vermont entrepreneur.”