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Crumbl takes its trademark defense to social media

The “cookie wars” have heated up this week as the fast-growing franchise published a statement reiterating its complaints about trademark theft by competitors, who themselves have not been silent.
Crumbl Cookies copycat lawsuits
Crumbl Cookies has been fighting concepts over trademark infringement in court. But it is now fighting them on social media./Photo by Jonathan Maze.

Crumbl Cookies, the fast-growing cookie franchise, has been aggressively defending itself in court against what it sees as trademark infringement by a group of upstart competitors.

Now, it’s defending itself in public against some of those same competitors.

This week, the company released a statement on social media pushing back against those competitors, reiterating its belief that they are copying the company’s logos and business concepts, arguing that two of them specifically have “unique ties” to Crumbl and adding some new allegations, including potential recipe theft.

“While we have remained silent as the process moves through appropriate legal channels, the defendants have taken to social media to spread misinformation and garner public sentiment,” according to the company’s statement, posted to LinkedIn by CEO Jason McGowan. “We believe it is appropriate to restate a few fundamental facts.”

Crumbl has sued numerous franchises with similar names or styles in recent months as its success—and the relative simplicity of its concept—has spawned copycat competitors. Many of these companies have similar names (Crumble) and just about all of them copy some unique things about Crumbl, notably its weekly rotating menu.

Such mimicry is common in the restaurant space (see: yogurt, frozen; or sandwiches, chicken), but for a company like Crumbl that depends on a single menu item, for the most part, it can be damaging.

Two of the lawsuits were filed at the same time in May, against companies that have ties to Utah and, allegedly, Crumbl itself. Crave, for instance, is based in Utah and its founder apparently applied to become a Crumbl franchisee and was turned down.

Crumbl also sued Dirty Dough, which is technically based in Texas, but whose founders were from Utah. Dirty Dough CEO Bennett Maxwell seems perfectly OK with publicizing the lawsuit, saying “Watch out Grandma, you better throw away those sprinkles or you will be Crumbl’s next victim” in a LinkedIn Post, where he also published Crumbl’s complaint.

It has also hired a PR firm and is using the #UtahCookieWars hashtag on social media to generate more attention. The chain, which has one unit and is selling franchises, is getting considerable publicity from the whole thing that goes well beyond its size. For a company eager to sell franchises all over the place—and a statement it said this week mentioned franchise sales specifically—that kind of publicity is priceless.

In its lawsuit, Crumbl said that the similarities between it and its competitors go far beyond sprinkles, though it remains a legal question whether they reach the level of intellectual property theft. Most notably, Crumbl argues in its complaint that Bradley Maxwell, Bennett’s brother, was a process engineer at Crumbl in 2019. The lawsuit also says that Bennett applied to be a franchise salesman but wasn’t hired. Dirty Dough has denied the allegations.

In its statement, Crumbl argues that Bradley Maxwell “misappropriated” Crumbl’s proprietary information he gained during his time with the company.

“One of the defendant’s brothers, who we also believe was involved in the defendant’s business, was a former corporate employee of Crumbl who had access to our recipes, schematics, processes and other proprietary information,” Crumbl’s statement said. “We have recently been told by a whistleblower, with inside knowledge, that the defendant misappropriated this information.”

Dirty Dough, for its part, has denied these allegations and argues there is no confusion between the two chains.

“Amidst the light-heartedness of social media, Dirty Dough is taking the current Utah lawsuits seriously,” it said. “Dirty Dough has not infringed on Crumbl’s purported intellectual property. We are confident the legal process will show Crumbl’s claims have no merit.”

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