Chick-fil-A could get some kale on its face

12/09/2011 09:34:00 AM
Chuck Robinson

 

What the kale was Chick-fil-A thinking?
The Atlanta-based national fast-food chain has sued a Vermont screen print artist for selling T-shirts with “eat more kale” printed on them. Chick-fil-A says it is too close to its “eat mor chikin” ad slogan.
There is no way for Chick-fil-A to come out of this not looking like a bully. 
If you ask me, it would improve their chicken sandwich quite a bit if they put a couple of pieces of kale on it.
Grist e-mailed the story to me in late November. 
Grist churns out wry commentary on environmental news and has been around for a dozen years. I figured when reading the lead-in that it was cloaked in their famous hyperbole. 
It was, but the indignation seems well placed to me.
More than 10 years ago Vermont artist Bo Muller-Moore began screen printing T-shirts with “eat more kale” for a friend who grew and sold kale at farmers markets. 
Somehow, they caught on, and if you go to eatmorekale.com you can find T-shirts like this one designed to appeal to the foodie intelligensia. 
Since his business is a one-man show, it is more than he can do to keep up with the orders. He has enlisted the help of another printing company near him.
Thanks to Chick-fil-A, I may add to his workload.
Since 1995, Chick-fil-A has run ads featuring a cow that encouraged people to “eat mor chikin” instead of beef. 
The company sent a letter to the Vermont screen printer in 2006 telling him to stop using “eat more kale.” 
A pro bono lawyer responded for the screen printer, and after the furor died down they thought that was that. 
Until this summer. Muller-Moore applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect his “eat more kale” phrase from copycats in August, according to an Associated Press report. 
Then Chick-fil-A sued to show it meant business.
In early December, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin joined the band of “eat more kale” supporters and announced at a news conference a new T-shirt and sticker fundraising campaign called “Team Kale” to help Muller-Moore finance his legal costs (video: http://tinyurl.com/7jl2fe2).
The governor seems on safe ground politcally, since there are no Chick-fil-A restaurants in Vermont, according to the company’s website.
In 2000 Chick-fil-A sued Burger King on similar grounds, complaining that the “eat more beef” advertising campaign mimicked Chick-fil-A’s slogan. 
It’s too bad Chick-fil-A’s legal gunslingers couldn’t differentiate between big, bad BK and a 38-year-old folk artist who is a foster parent for an adult with special needs. 
In a news release, Chick-fil-A said it supported the entrepreneurial spirit of small business and that each of its 1,603 restaurants is owned and operated by a local business person who lives in and gives back to his or her community.
“Unfortunately, when protecting our trademark, the law does not allow us to differentiate between a large company or a small enterprise,” according to the statement (http://tinyurl.com/7vmyndf). 
Vermont’s Sen. Patrick Leahy joined the dogpile of people criticizing Chick-fil-A, even though in 2010 he authored legislation to help assist trademark owners. 
While intellectual property rights are crucial, he said in a news release, a balance must be struck.
“We have seen in the past how trademark laws can be misused by big corporations with deep pockets to bully small businesses that have limited recourse,” Leahy said in the news release. 
“As a strong defender of American intellectual property rights, I also want to see these laws used fairly and properly and not simply as a hammer for large firms to wield coercively against small firms or individuals.”
People, line up to take your swing, because Chick-fil-A apparently doesn’t mind being a piñata. Have you got a snide remark to make? Go ahead, it is open season.
In a posting under the headline of “File Mor LawSoots,” the Everett, Wash., Daily Herald online (http://tinyurl.com/7o7q8zm) said, “Since (nominal) edibility is the only thing that kale and Chick-fil-A products have in common, and because the Vermont hippie spelled all the words correctly, Judge Buzz finds for the defendant.” 
More comments like this are on the way. 
Eat more kale.
crobinson@thepacker.com
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