Construction giant Caterpillar Inc. is in a trademark battle with one of its biggest threats: A coffee shop in Santa Cruz, California. The café is called Cat & Cloud, which, you know, is just way too similar to Caterpillar’s CAT trademark. And so the company is trying to stop the small business from using its feline-adjacent name on certain items.
The issue surrounds Cat & Cloud’s apparel–the coffee shop had apparently filed a trademark to use its name on merchandise. Caterpillar, which currently has a market capitalization of $71.47 billion, does not want that to happen, and has used its extremely deep-pocketed legal resources to stop the central California coffee bros, who reportedly made $150,000 in income last year.
In response, Cat & Cloud has launched a GoFundMe. It’s trying to raise $50,000 to help support its legal defense. Caterpillar Inc., the crowdfunding page writes, “embarked on a concentrated effort to cancel the registered trademarks of several small businesses that use the word ‘cat’ in their names.” Cat & Cloud goes on: “It would effectively set the precedent for them to OWN the word ‘cat,’ making it un-useable by any business in the U.S. Cat & Cloud Coffee.”
I reached out to Caterpillar Inc. for comment. A spokesperson provided me with the following statement:
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.
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.
This is not the first time Caterpillar has used its sway to stop small businesses from trademarking cat-like names. In 2015, a Santa Barbara designer named Laura Levy tried to trademark “Haute Cat,” and was met with an extended judicious fight from Caterpillar. In her defense, she wrote that Caterpillar Inc. “is engaged in bad faith attempt to [use] this proceeding as a bullying attempt to, among other things, restricting and/or reduce competition and/or other legitimate uses of Applicant’s Haute Cat . . . mark to obtain overly broad rights to the terms CAT and or Caterpillar.” In the end, she still lost.
Another 2008 trademark attempt for a Hawaiian children’s clothing store called “Caterpillar Kids” was also opposed by Caterpillar Inc. It too lost.
Cat & Cloud, it seems, is trying to garner enough public to give Caterpillar a real fight. We’ll see if the coffee shop is able to prevail. But even if it does, that won’t stop Caterpillar from going after the next small business that isn’t able to create an online firestorm.
An earlier version of this story erroneously said Caterpillar sent a cease and desist letter to Cat & Cloud. We regret the error.