Did Huffington Post and Chipotle deliberately use a name trademarked by Food for Thought?
By Dan Shoup
Corporate giants Huffington Post, owned by AOL, and food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill have collaborated on a new blog about food named Food for Thought. A small 18-year-old food company in Northern Michigan, however, trademarked the name Food for Thought years ago, and has been writing a blog about food for some time. Is this a case of a huge company stepping on the toes of a small business, or is it simply corporate oversight? Timothy Young, of Food for Thought, Inc, has launched a campaign to get his trademark recognized by the corporate giants.
Honor, Michigan, October 31
Food for Thought, a local, organic specialty food company owned by Timothy Young, of Honor, Michigan, has sent a letter to Arianna Huffington, of the Huffington Post, and Mark Crumpacker, Chief Marketing Officer for Chipotle Mexican Grill, requesting that they change the name of a new blog launched earlier this week on the Huffington Post site that uses the same name, and a strikingly similar logo, as Young’s Food for Thought.
The “Food for Thought” name is a trademark that was registered by Young as he began his small organic farm and food business 18 years ago. As an activist for sustainable food, fair trade, and food justice, Young also has a website, blog, Facebook page, YouTube channel, and newsletter that uses the Food for Thought name and champions his company’s mission: “To create and raise awareness around just and sustainable food.” As part of that mission, Young created his food blog a number of years ago in order to, “present helpful information about a variety of topics: from Green Living, Cooking, Organic Food, Sustainable Agriculture, along with the policy and politics that these categories bring to the public eye.”
The Huffington Post, in partnership with Chipotle, announced its new blog on October 21. As it is posted on their site, the new blog is “dedicated to creating awareness about how food is grown, raised, and prepared and the effects this system has on us.”
“I’m just a small family owned company,” Young commented on his registered trademark. “Before I chose the name Food For Thought for my business I did my due diligence to make sure I was not stepping on anyone’s toes—trademarked or not. Apparently Huffington Post and Chipotle did not; or did, and did not care.”
“What Huffington Post and Chipotle seem to be ignoring is that common law trademark rights state registration of a term is not required,” Young added. “The law sides with the first use of a term. The fact that we’ve registered the trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in a food classification only strengthens our case. A simple web search finds my company website and blog quite easily; I find it hard to believe that a team of corporate lawyers didn’t know about my company. I’d like to think it was an oversight, but they’ve ignored my letters for over a week now.”
The “Crux of the Matter”
This is about more than just the use of Young’s trademark. “While there is clearly a legal issue on the table here, what is really at play are the ethics of Huffington Post, parent company AOL, and Chipotle. It’s not always about who can come out victorious in court, and the concern for me is that little companies get crushed all the time defending their trademarks and brands against large corporations with deep pockets and legal teams. They often just don’t care about the small, mom-and-pop business owners.”
“While there are other trademarked and common law uses of Food For Thought, they have unique uses in different classifications,” Young added. “The blatant disregard of my trademark by Chipotle, therefore, is surprising. They are a rapidly growing fast food chain that is all over the blogosphere and their website touts how they are creating sustainable supply chains, how they work with ‘integrity,’ and ‘respect the environment and farmers’ — they don’t seem to be walking their talk, though, when it comes to the possibility of sapping the life out of a brand this organic farmer has spent 18 years of his life building. I suspect they have the resources and creativity to come up with a name no on else is using.”
Enrico Schaefer, founding attorney at Traverse Legal Attorney’s and Advisors, stated, “[Food for Thought] is a strong brand which has been around for a long time. Too often, large companies trample trademark rights of the little guy believing that their money and higher priced lawyers will act as a shield against a legitimate claim of trademark infringement.”
The Huffington Post, in partnership with Chipotle, announced the new blog on Monday, October 21. Young was made aware of it the same day, and immediately sent a letter to Arianna Huffington and the Chipotle marketing officer, Mark Crumpacker, requesting that they change the name of their blog. He has received no reply at this time. Young, along with dozens-upon-dozens of his company’s supporters also posted letters in the comment section of the Huffington Post announcement; the site monitors have not posted any comments that criticize their use of the Food for Thought name.
Doug Luciani, the President and CEO of Traverse City Chamber of Commerce, shows his support for Food for Thought in this letter, sent to Arianna Huffington, and used with his permission here:
Food for Thought is an incredibly impactful business in northern Michigan that has raised the awareness of hundreds of thousands about the importance of sustainable agriculture and local food production throughout Michigan and the Midwest. Besides that, its president, Timothy Young, has promoted global causes by running across Ethiopia and Palestine over the past two years with other runners and activists from our region. Their work has resulted in funding new schools, establishing sustainable farming practices, and other ways to benefit the residents of those areas.
Food for Thought has worked for nearly two decades to develop its product, strengthen its brand, and promote a culture that has only now become en vogue. It is the classic “little guy” when attempting to battle in a traditional way an enterprise like yours. Please respect Food for Thought’s passion, its body of work, and its legal trademark and find a new name for your new product. You may even want to feature Food for Thought in the Huffington Post…
Numerous letters supporting Mr. Young’s work, and his Food for Thought brand have been sent to Ms. Huffington since the launch of the Huffington Post blog. Many of those letters have also been posted to Timothy Young’s Food for Thought blog.
“The internet and social media can be great equalizers,” says Schaefer, of Traverse Legal. “I always encourage clients like Food For Thought to get their message out. Sometimes public support can make more difference than a legal threat letter.”
When asked what his next step is, Timothy smiled and said, “Well … my wife and I have been planning to pull the kids out of school, hook up the camper, and tour the country for a few months. Maybe now we have a cause and we can picket Chipotle restaurants around the country? Too bad we’ll have to boycott eating at them since I do like their food.”
You can read Timothy Young’s letter requesting that Huffington Post change the name of its blog, and many of the letters supporting Young and his Food for Thought brand, at the Food for Thought website and blog. Send your own letters of support to firstname.lastname@example.org and post them here.