Finnegan's monthly review of essential decisions, key developments, evolving trends in trademark law, and more.
December 2012 Issue


“Eat Mor” War: Chick-fil-A Bites Off Too Much Again?

“I’ve been chasing ghosts and I don’t like it.  I wish someone would show me where to draw the line.” John Cale

Chick-fil-A, the fast-food poultry palace with a Baptist bent, earned public ire when one of its executives came out against same-sex marriage, telling a Christian news organization that Chick-fil-A supported “the biblical definition of the family unit.”  Boycotts ensued, but not lawsuits.

But the “Chick” is no stranger to public controversy or to legal proceedings, especially when it comes to trademarks.  The company has aggressively enforced its federal registration for the slogan “Eat Mor Chikin.”  It even claims that the slogan is so famous that no one else should be able to use the expression “Eat More,” regardless of the product or cause.

Until recently, Chick-fil-A’s fight to rule the “Eat Mor/More” roost was largely a success, with the company pecking away at one alleged infringer after another.

That is until it ran into Bo Muller-Moore and his “Eat More Kale” t-shirt business.  Muller-Moore lives in Vermont and makes shirts emblazoned with crisp messages or simple declarations such as “Cheese.” When a local farmer suggested the slogan “Eat More Kale,” Muller-Moore complied, and sales blossomed.  So much so that he applied to register the slogan with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

That’s when Chick-fil-A entered the picture.  It’s lawyers stepped in to protest, claiming that Muller-Moore’s mark would confuse the public and damage Chick-fil-A and its “Eat Mor” mark.

Muller-Moore, however, is no chicken.  Instead of wilting under legal pressure, the “Eat More Kale” man has mounted a counteroffensive.  Battling a fast-food corporate giant takes more than chicken feed.  So Muller-Moore started a campaign on the public-fundraising site “Kickstarter,” which usually is the province of musicians, filmmakers, and artists seeking backers for their next record, film, or project.  Using the site to bankroll a lawsuit may be a new growth industry for Kickstarter.  With his story propelled by the Internet, Muller-Moore has already topped his funding goal of $75,000, allowing him to go toe to toe with Chick-fil-A.

Some may call Chick-fil-A a trademark bully.  Others may see the purveyor of crispy chicken sandwiches as taking necessary steps to protect a valuable trademark asset.  But whatever your take on the situation, one thing is clear—trademark owners, even well-heeled ones, can no longer count on mom and pop rolling over at the first whiff of legal trouble.  The playing field may not exactly be level, but the Internet and sites like Kickstarter have now redrawn the boundaries.