Chick-fil-A, the multi-billion corporation headquartered in Atlanta, Ga. and the country’s second-largest fast-food chicken chain behind KFC, has entered into a trademark dispute with Bo Muller-Moore, the owner and operator of eatmorekale.com, a tiny T-shirt business that Muller-Moore runs almost entirely out of a loft above his garage with a few small silk-screen printers.
The issue is centered on Muller-Moore’s use of the phrase “Eat More Kale,” which Chick-fil-A claims is an infringement on their “Eat Mor Chikin” slogan and causes brand confusion.
Chick-fil-A’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to Muller-Moore, demanding that he cease production of his T-shirts, turn over his website to them and immediately send all of his “Eat More Kale” products to Atlanta to be destroyed.
UPDATE: As of Friday, March 23, Bo Muller-Moore has reached his Kickstarter goal and raised $75,000!
Muller-Moore, who grew up in Memphis, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala., before moving to Montpelier, Vt., claims that his “Eat More Kale” T-shirt business started when a local farmer requested a single shirt.
“Back in 2001, a farmer — Paul the farmer — came to me and asked for a shirt that said ‘Eat More Kale,’” Muller-Moore said, speaking by phone from his Montpelier home. “I asked why and he said ‘I’ve got a lot of kale and I want to sell more of it.’”
People liked the design and soon Muller-Moore was selling his shirts at farmers markets and fairs around Vermont.
“Vermont is a long way from any Chick-fil-A franchises. Paul the farmer had never even heard of Chick-fil-A, so it was not intended to be parody of Chick-fil-A. And in dozens of festivals and years of T-shirts, not a single person has come up to me and said, ‘Oh like “eat mor chikin?’”
Intentions aside, in 2006 Chick-fil-A’s lawyers decided that Muller-Moore’s phrase was an infringement on their “Eat Mor Chikin” trademark.
“They sent me a letter telling me to stop making T-shirts, stop making bumper stickers, shut down my website and send the shirts I did have to Atlanta to be destroyed,” Muller-Moore said. “I thought it was a joke. I’m a foster parent in Vermont driving a 10-year-old Subaru. How am I going to affect someone’s profits? I’m not looking [for my shirts] to become the next ‘Life is good’ T-shirts. I just wanted to sustain my business.”
The two parties exchanged letters for several months, but when communiqués from the Chick-fil-A legal department stopped coming, Muller-Moore assumed the silence implied tacit approval of his continuing business. Then he applied to trademark his phrase and Chick-fil-A reappeared, issuing another cease-and-desist order after blocking his trademark application.
“Turns out Chick-fil-A’s lawyers troll for anything with ‘eat more,’ block it, then send a cease-and-desist order to the applier,” he said. “They have done this to 30 different businesses over the past 10 years.”
Once again faced with the potential loss of his business, Muller-Moore decided to start fighting back. “The lawyer asked what I want to do and I said ‘I want to let anybody who cares know.’”
Shortly after he started his campaign in November, people immediately began to respond.
“I went from 350 hits on my website to 37,000 hits,” Muller-Moore said. “For the next seven days, I got four to 10 emails per minute from people around the world saying, ‘I’m tired of corporate America’s BS.’ People were so pleased that a dude like me in a tiny little state like Vermont would say, ‘I’m gonna call shenanigans on this.’ People really seemed to respond to that. The governor of Vermont wanted to start a legal fund for me. I had an hour-long conference with Ben and Jerry.”
One of the people drawn to Muller-Moore’s story was documentary filmmaker James Lantz.
“I became aware of Bo’s story and thought, ‘This is definitely something that’s very interesting,’” Lantz said. “I talked to him and found out that the story was even more interesting. The more I dug into it, the more I found out about it, the more intrigued I got with it.”
Lantz and Muller-Moore decided to try to make a documentary titled A Dude, about his plight and the plight of other victims of corporate trademark bullying called. Forgoing traditional fundraising methods, Lantz and Muller-Moore decided to use Kickstarter, an Internet service that allows entrepreneurs to pitch their products on the Kickstarter website and allow users to crowd-fund the project.
“If I had tried to fund this film in the traditional way that documentaries were funded, which was branding and philanthropy, it would take us years to get the funding,” Lantz said. “The thing about Kickstarter is that it allows you to get the project up in a very short period of time. The whole idea of crowd-funding is just extraordinary.”
Their target to raise is $75,000, of which about $40,000 has already been raised. Unfortunately, Kickstarter projects have a time limit in which to gather the necessary backers to fund the project. If the project falls short of the goal, no funding is received. A Defiant Dude has until March 25 to raise the required $75,000. “Unfortunately, the reality is that if we fall short, the film doesn’t get made. Do I think we can get it? I certainly hope so.”
Even if the documentary doesn’t receive the funding it needs in time, Lantz and Muller-Moore are sure that the little Vermont T-shirt maker standing up to Chick-fil-A will make a great story. “I truly believe this a great story,” Lantz said. “Like Bo says, if he wins it’ll be a great David and Goliath story. If he loses, it’ll be a great sad story about bigger forces winning. I could not be more pleased with my treatment by Bo. He’s a hero in my book.”
Chick-fil-A could not be reached for this story, but has a standing policy to not comment on pending legal matters. The company has issued a statement that says, “We must legally protect and defend our ‘Eat mor chikin’ trademarks in order to maintain rights to the slogan.”
Muller-Moore’s website, which has a link to the Kickstarter page for A Defiant Dude, is www.eatmorekale.com.
Andy McWhorter is a contributing writer at Weld for Birmingham and a Weld Local correspondent. Send your feedback to email@example.com.