Caterpillar, maker of construction equipment, is seeking to cancel the apparel trademark of roaster-retailer Cat and Cloud. Now the coffee company is spreading the word—and launching a crowdfunding campaign—to stand their ground.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Cat and Cloud Coffee
In August 2018, Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Cat and Cloud Coffee received some surprising news: Caterpillar, the construction machinery manufacturer, was petitioning the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel Cat and Cloud’s Class 25 trademark, which applies to all the apparel it sells.
The issue at hand appeared to be the “Cat” in the coffee company’s name; Caterpillar frequently goes by the abbreviation “Cat.” “They’re involved in multiple other cases against businesses that have ‘Cat’ in their name,” says Chris Baca, who co-owns Cat and Cloud with Jared Truby and Charles Jack. “They’re systematically collecting usage of the word ‘Cat’ to own it all.”
After receiving the news in August, the Cat and Cloud owners went through the discovery process with their lawyers, in which they presented every piece of apparel to Caterpillar’s lawyers. “Through that process we thought it would become clear that there was no chance of brand confusion,” says Jared. “We were hoping it would go away because it seemed so frivolous. But it hasn’t.”
Now, with the dispute continuing to linger, Cat and Cloud is spreading the word about the trademark petition in an attempt to rally support for the business. They have also launched a GoFundMe campaign to help fund their defense.
In an Instagram post last week on his personal page, Chris wrote, among other things: “Caterpillar generated $54.7 billion in sales and revenue in 2018 alone, and being attacked by a company of that size feels scary to say the least.” The post has received over 2,700 likes and 190 comments as of press time, and several media outlets have covered the story.
For Caterpillar, the petition is an effort to protect its trademark. Rachel Potts, enterprise communications director of Caterpillar, provided this statement to Barista Magazine Online: “Caterpillar serves customers around the world, many of whom earn their livelihood with one or two machines and often a good pair of work boots. We value all of them and strive to provide exceptional products and services. This means we have a responsibility to protect and maintain the brand they love and rely on every day – including our existing trademarks.”
The statement continues, “We are not suing Cat & Cloud, not targeting a small business and not focused on Cat & Cloud’s primary interest: coffee. We’ve simply asked the U.S. 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.”
Chris says Cat and Cloud decided to go public with the case in large part because the business can’t afford the lawyer fees to fight Caterpillar in court. “We could continue the discovery process, but we’ll run out of money if we go head to head,” he says. “The only way anyone gets people to drop these cases is to make it so obnoxious in the public eye that it’s not worth it for the other side. So we’re just trying to raise awareness.” Jared adds that Caterpillar appears to be targeting smaller businesses with the Class 25 petitions. “They’re only going after smaller brands,” he says. “They haven’t gone after anyone of mid to large level.”
At stake for Cat and Cloud is a potential impact on the company’s apparel line, which includes T-shirts, hats, and sweatshirts, and which Chris says accounts for at least 15 percent of Cat and Cloud’s revenue. (Cat and Cloud has held the Class 25 trademark since 2015.) But more importantly for the owners, the apparel line is largely created by Cat and Cloud’s employees, providing them with a creative outlet and additional income. “Our team creates the art, they earn a commission, and it bumps up their pay,” Jared says. “So one of the biggest things is we need to defend our team so they can keep earning that money. Our team is the foundation of our business.”
Chris and Jared say that standing their ground against Caterpillar has been exhausting, as Cat and Cloud is in the process of two café build-outs and numerous other obligations. But they add that they’ve been buoyed by the support they’ve received, including from the coffee community. “The only saving grace has been the support of the people,” Jared says. “They’ve been going to bat for us, which means a lot. Especially the coffee community—they all get air hugs and high-fives from us.”
Chris and Jared say the ideal outcome is that Caterpillar drops the petition. “Actually,” Chris says, “the ultimate ideal outcome is that Last Week Tonight covers it, and they drop it.” In the meantime, as the battle continues, the Cat and Cloud owners see the fight as bigger than themselves and their business. “Hopefully this can be an example to small businesses everywhere that you don’t have to accept being bulled by people because they make infinitely more money than you,” says Chris. “It’s ridiculous to not stand up for yourself.”