27 May 2010

There Ain't No Easy Way Out, Hey Gonna Stand My Ground

I had just seen the film Little Miss Sunshine when my friend Annie suggested I name my start-up cupcake venture, Little Miss Cupcake. I liked it -- it had a cute ring to it. And given that my mother has been calling me Little Miss C (for Catherine, my full first name) since I was about 6, it seemed somehow to be a sign.

About 8 weeks ago, I received a message from a twitter friend. She wrote to tell me about a new cupcake shop opening in her neighborhood and wondered if I knew about it. "I have an idea of who it could be," I wrote back knowing of another baker whose store was to open soon. "What's the name?" I asked. A few hours later a new message popped up in my inbox, "Is it you?" my friend asked. Attached was a twitpic of a woman I had never seen before staring into the camera from the doorway of a storefront. Above her head, painted on the facade of the not-yet-opened cupcakery was a name that made my heart stop. Quite simply, it was too close to my brand name for comfort. (I refuse to dedicate even a millimeter of my blog to mention this store by name so I will just refer it to it as CopyCat Cupcakes. Get it? I go by the name Cat!).

I immediately hit google to see what I could learn about CopyCat. But wouldn't you know, on google.fr if you type in the real name of CopyCat Cupcakes you get about 1,000,000 returns, the first 14 pages of which are all about my company, Little Miss Cupcake and absolutely ZERO about her. Hmmm. I started ringing round to friends in the industry and about 10 minutes later, one of them sent me a copy of CopyCat’s request to the French trademark office to trademark the name (this info is publicly available on the web). Egads! What I then learned made my blood boil...in France, it is usually the first to file (her in February 2010) who is favored in trademark suits as opposed to the first to use (me since 2008).

I have an advertising background. I should have known to protect myself. Trademarking was something I was eventually going to get around to. But let's face it, the market here is very small and specialized. There are only a handful of us making cupcakes in Paris and because I am a fairly well-known brand, it didn't even cross my mind that someone would try to steal my name. I mean could you imagine if I tried to open a cupcake gear store and called it Mrs. Johnny Cupcakes? I bet I would get shot out of the cupcake canon for that one. And this is basically akin to what CopyCat Cupcakes has done.

I really wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the similarity of our names was an honest mistake. But seriously, if you are going to invest a few thousand euros to open a cupcake store, don't you think you'd do even the tiniest bit of research? If all she had done was google.fr "cupcake," Little Miss Cupcake comes up on the 1st page of results. I have subsequently learned that she has bought the rights to a domain name that is virtually an iteration of my own AND started a blog here on blogger with an URL that is almost identical to mine. I had to admit, what I chalked up to "coincidences" stopped there. The legal term here in France for what she is doing is called "parasitisme" and what a fitting name it is.

A few legal friends advised that I contact CopyCat to see if we could find an amicable solution. If all else fails, they said, I could file an opposition with the trademark office. I didn't want an ugly fight, so I sent CopyCat an informal letter as an opener. Would she consider changing her name? I would even reimburse her for the hefty fee of filing the trademark. I was hopeful – at that point, she hadn't opened her store yet and I couldn't imagine she had much invested in the name. But my letter went unanswered. And then, two weeks later, a note arrived from a big law firm on the tony Champs-Elysees. The lawyer started off by telling me that I couldn't claim a generic word like "cupcake" as my own (I never did) and that I certainly couldn't prevent others from making and selling cupcakes in France (Really? I thought I had exclusive rights to be the ONLY cupcake baker in France, hell, in the world!).

Furthermore, the lawyer went on to say that my claim of ownership to the name Little Miss Cupcake was ridiculous -- that I am not even a real business (Oh? I have the siret #/taxpayer ID to prove otherwise. Jeez maybe I should stop paying taxes on my biz revenues!) and that no one has ever heard of me (Hmm, I guess I just imagined that pile of press clippings from L'Express, Psychologies, Elle, Grazia, Huffington Post, New York Magazine, New York Times, etc. etc. etc. citing Little Miss Cupcake....all those requests from the TV stations to appear on shows -- never happened....all the fans on Facebook, my blogs, twitter -- I guess they are just figments of my imagination?... And the many, many requests I have received for business collaborations here in France and as far off as Germany and Japan -- I guess those were meant for another Little Miss Cupcake who happens to have the same email address as me?). The part that killed me though was her insistence that there is no similarity between our names -- my name consists of 3 words: "Little" "Miss" and "Cupcake." CopyCat's consists of 2 words, both of which happen to be in my name -- BUT that I was now warned that I should not use the name Little Miss Cupcake in any communications outside of my blogs. Come again?

The past few weeks have been a horror. I have had many sleepless nights on account of this matter and it seems to be going nowhere slowly. I have worked so hard to build my reputation; when I think of all the late nights and early mornings spent lovingly hand-crafting decorations to go on cupcakes, baking custom orders, all the time that I have sacrificed with my children and my husband to foster my business and promote the Little Miss Cupcake name, it breaks my heart. I'm going to do what I can to keep my name and to deter CopyCat from capitalizing on my hard work. Unfortunately though I don't think the legal precedence is on my side.

A note from Natalie at Bake and Destroy told me to try to stay positive -- that perhaps I should view this as an opportunity to reinvent myself. Easier said than done. Anyway the point of this post is to say first off to those of you who have followed this saga: I appreciate the kind words and support I have received from you all. For those of you with fledgling business like me, take the time and protect yourself from something like this. If you don't follow my blog and just happened across it, I want you to know: I do NOT have a store in Paris (yet!) and I am in no way affiliated with a like-named store in the 18th. Please don't be confused by our similar sounding names and patronize it under the impression that you are buying Little Miss Cupcake cupcakes. My cupcakes are currently only available via custom order from me directly.

The story continues here.....


  1. Argh!!! How terribly frustrating for you...do try and stay positive. And, if all else fails resort to evil and dasterdly behavoir if necessary...or at the very least cursing and drinking! :)

  2. We're fighting our own painful legal battle in France w/the architect & mason who managed to single-handedly ruin 2yrs of work on our grange renovation that we were supposed to LIVE in before this winter. Now, we're stuck in camping hell another year while trying to make right (on the correct legal path) what was so wrong (& recognized by all as such). Le Mr is an American trained attorney & I helped study through law school, so it's difficult to go through the French process with their logic, or lack thereof...hang in there, follow what you deem to be correct and know that those of us out there who follow, support & eat the authentic LMC product will do our damndest to make sure that the False one receives no patronage nor word of mouth. Bonne Chance & Bon courage!

  3. I am all behind you on this. Not only is this CopyCat a PARASITE, she can't even make really good cupcakes. I know where I speak. I tried them myself. They were like sugared sand, so awfully dry. And I've tasted yours - YUMMY and delivered on the flavour as stated and very moist indeed!

    CopyCat should be put in her proper place, down in the beach, churning make believe cupcakes out of sand. She's good at that after all!

    In the meantime, we'll do our darndest so that via Twitter & FB we'll warn people to stay away from her awful waste-of-money-cupcakes!

  4. Thank you all for your kind words of advice and encouragement. This has been a rather difficult thing to live through and it's thanks to support of my clients, fans and friends like you that I will be able to continue on and rise above this!

  5. Come to Rome, we NEED cupcakes!!! I even have a cupcake calendar! But, of course, that won't prevent the Italians from doing the very same thing (I know of what I speak - I had once started Chocolate Chip cookies and now they're everywhere but they're not mine, and they're not good)...

    Bu, you know, I always believe that the quality will always win out - these things are bound to happen - and maybe, imitation is the highest form of flattery. If you don't have the creativity to come up with your own brand but count on piggy-backing on someone else, that doesn't bode well karma-wise or otherwise...

    So, press on, produce great cakes, and start sending them to Italy. Per favore.

    Francesca Maggi
    Burnt by the Tuscan Sun

  6. I popped over from a fabulous blogger http://www.mommiecooks.com/
    So glad I did. This is quite the story. One that could easily happen to any of us that work so hard at branding ourselves. I will admit I said for a while that I was going to copyright all of my stuff and drug my feet to the very end.
    Thank you so much for sharing your horrific story as I'm sure it will be a great eye opener to others.
    On a side note. I'm truly glad I stumbled onto your blog, you are fabulous. Such an inspiration. I will be subscribing because I love all the positive energy you put out there.
    Wishing you a blessed week!

  7. I suggest you go out and get your own tony Champs-Elysees lawyer and fight back. Gather all of your evidence (business/tax documents, press clippings, letters from clients, etc.) to prove you have been in business for a long time. I know nothing about French law (I'm an attorney in the States.), but their must be some basis for your claim in equity law. Also, file for your own trademark or incorporate yourself if you can. If the names are not exact, you might still be able to do this. Good luck!

  8. uno più bello dell’altro... che spettacolo!!!

  9. Oh holy cow, chica, this is so sucky to read! I have not commented much on past posts, but I do check in to see what delicious things you have made of late quite often.

    I wanted to comment now just to offer moral support and high hopes that you can reign supreme with your hard-won name: Little Miss Cupcake!!

    Hang in there and I will stay posted...

  10. Keep your head up, knowing you are the original and the best! I saved that picture of your iPhone app cupcakes to my desktop so I can look at it every day and squeal. While I try to figure out which apps I'm missing. ;) Good luck!!

  11. My gosh, Cat, I was just hopping into your blog for thanking you for the lovely DB's challenge and find this... It's totally insane. I really hope French justice stays on your side.

    Hang in there!

  12. Somehow I missed this post... I didn't realize you got a letter from her attorney. That bites! Hey... We're all behind you here.... Cat, I know that this is disgusting and leaves and awful taste in your mouth (and ours, too) but I am really hoping for karma to come around and cause her to loose all footing - i.e. FLOP!!!
    Big hugs,

  13. Ugh, and again I say, ugh.

    I think you need to compile everything you have documenting your business since 2008 and have a lawyer fire off a like letter to HER lawyers, saying, really now, no one's heard of me? You sure about that?

    It's pathetic that people with enough money can get a lawyer to send out a cease and desist about things that they claim as true when they aren't, and when the real information is easily found via a simple search.

  14. I would knock both of them out if I just could, the parasite and her lawyer. The whole thing makes my blood boil to. It's so unfair, I can't believe there are persons like her around there. Please fight, fight her with all the resources you can gather, you have so many evidences to witness you're very known and respected. You have to bust her, you are the one and only Little Miss Cupcake! I'm sure you will succeed but if you don't (God forbid!), this I swear: next time I will be able to go to Paris I'll go to her place and tell to her face what she is. And maybe I can try to re-decorate her façade with some nice graffitti.
    All my love and my support from Madrid. Big hug, honey.

  15. This is terrible. When i was looking for a name for a business I didn't want it to be like anyone elses - just shows that perhaps was she has to offer isn't as good as yours but thinks she can get business from people assuming it's you (if that makes sense!).

    Hope this gets sorted soon for you.

  16. Thank you everyone for stopping by and leaving a word of support. I am pursuing the matter through proper legal channels but unfortunately the legal precedent is not on my side and it's a costly battle to wage. I just find it unbelievable that someone who has just opened shop can so utterly destroy what I have worked so very hard to establish and *I* may be the one who is obligated to change my name as a result.

    A word to the wise, if anything good can come out of this, I hope you all with new businesses take the time and make the investment to protect your company name so this won't happen to you.

  17. Ugh! I'm so annoyed for you! Good luck! I hope things work out for you!

  18. OMG, i can't believe she didnt event wrote back to you! Shame on her!

    My name is Eloïse 24, i live in south france and we're thinking with my hus to open a bakery (i love the US i've been living in FL for 2 years).

    Just to see, i checked out her blog...it's nothing like you! I wonder what she was thinking about, everybody is just gonna think she's a poor copycat,and anything but honnest, she's killing her on buisness...

    Good for you in this way;

    I wish you good luck!

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  20. Hi... this is just terrible... it sucks how often this happens. Whether it is businesses stealing other businesses' photos and passing them off as their own cake work, or people just straight up copying other people's businesses, all I can say is that you are the original, you have so many followers and people (even internationally!) who know you and respect you, your work and your blog!

    Something similar happened to me this past year, through Facebook I found someone with almost the exact same name as my business (Coco Cake)... but the clincher was she stole my logo down to the colour scheme! My graphic designer friend created the logo and I paid her, etc... I sent the woman an email saying my business name and logo was copyrighted and the woman changed the logo and admitted she had liked mine and just straight up used it.

    Unbelievable how ignorant people are, considering there is a huge international community of cakers and cupacakers who stand up for each other and look out for each other.

    Anyway all my best to you, you will continue to be successful, no doubt!!

    xo Lyndsay (from Vancouver, BC)

  21. Oh no, how awful for you! I cannot believe the gall this woman has!

    Good luck in your business, hopefully good things will come your way. Cupcake bakers of the world unite and snub the copycat :)

  22. I know this is old news, but just linked to it from CCTTC. I had the same issue with my name. I put a lot of hard work and effort into my business and when I moved to another state, got my registered trademark, and began building my business there, right smack dab in the very same town I was living, a shop opened up with the EXACT same name. I sent a letter and got an immediate response from the owner who was very childish and acted like my request was a personal attack against her...it seriously read like, "Oh yeah...well, I'm gonna get my own lawyer and sue YOU! ~ppbbllt~"

    Anywho, i realized how common the name was (eve though there wer no cupcake places with my name when I trademarked and went into business...they only started popping up afterward) and went down a completely different path. I am very happy with my new name, new business, and everything it stands for, as I'm sure you are too. And if it's any consulation, I like your new name MUCH better! ;-)