Heavy equipment manufactured by Caterpillar Inc. is a familiar sight on farms and construction sites in Connecticut and around the country, but the Illinois-based company sells sweatshirts, mugs and hats as well as earth movers and diggers. To protect this part of its business, Caterpillar has asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel a Class 25 trademark it granted to a chain of California coffee shops named Cat & Cloud in 2016.
Caterpillar understands that the public may react poorly to news of a corporation with more than $50 billion in annual revenues taking legal action against a pair of entrepreneurs with only $150,000 in total sales. Attorneys representing the company are eager for the press to know that Cat & Cloud is not being sued and no damages are being sought. They say that they just want footwear and apparel trademarks issued to Cat & Cloud to be cancelled to protect their client’s brand.
The entrepreneurs behind Cat & Cloud have accused Caterpillar of bullying and point out that none of their products feature the word ‘cat” in isolation. Caterpillar has said that it wants to settle the matter quickly and amicably, but the coffee chain says that it has heard through back channels that the company does not plan to back down and is prepared for a protracted legal battle.
This case reveals that intellectual property disputes can damage a company’s reputation even when the law appears to be on its side. Attorneys with experience in this area may seek to avoid conflicts like this one by taking action before infringing trademarks are granted. This could be done by filing notices of opposition with the USPTO when companies seek trademarks that could infringe on the legally protected rights of their clients.