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City of Chicago sues coffee company over almost identical logo

Independent coffee company Fire Dept. Coffee is being sued by the City of Chicago for trademark infringement. The brand's logo bears a striking resemblance to the one used for the Chicago Fire Department – both have opted for a monogram of the letters C, F and D, and both use the colour red. Take a look at the two logos side-by-side below.

Chicago Fire Dept logo and Fire Dept. Coffee logo side by side

Chicago Fire Dept logo (left) and Fire Dept. Coffee logo (right)  (Image credit: Chicago Fire Dept / Fire Dept. Coffee)

It's difficult not to see their point – this is not a case of an idea being reused, but what looks like an intentional likeness. The striking CFD monogram is well known, and wouldn't be out of place in our pick of the best monogram logos. It has been around since 1949, and appears on ambulances, trucks and on some uniforms. 

The City of Chicago claims the logo is an imitation of the Chicago Fire Department’s symbol that the brand has chosen with the aim that "using a mark similar to the CFD mark would greatly enhance the sale of goods". The lawsuit also states that the coffee brand is "intentionally attempting to improperly ride on the city’s coattails and trade on the city’s success and goodwill". And as our logo design guide states, that's not something you're ever going to want to be doing.

Sounds pretty cut and dried, right? Well there's more to the story than that. Fire Dept. Coffee, which is based in Rockford, Illinois, has a very valid reason to want to create a visual connection to the fire service. 

Fire Dept. Coffee bags

The Fire Dept. Coffee monogram in use (Image credit: Fire Dept. Coffee)

The company was founded by Rockford firefighter Luke Schneider and his wife Kate. Many of Fire Dept. Coffee's employees are firefighters and veterans, and 10 per cent of the proceeds from every order goes towards supporting sick or injured firefighters and first responders.

"Our company, which is founded and operated by firefighters, is reflected in our logo, a style that is used by fire departments across the nation," said the company in a statement.

What's more, it says it got official approval for the use of the logo, which is now used on the brand's coffee packaging as well as merchandise such as mugs and clothing. "Fire Department Coffee pursued all of the correct legal channels and secured an approved, registered trademark for our current Fire Department Coffee logo," the statement says. 

The lawsuit claims this trademark was erroneously issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2006. Who's really in the wrong here? Hopefully it'll all cool down soon.

[Via Chicago Sun Times]

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