This week, a Pasadena, Calif. family sparked passionate debate within the food, gardening and farming communities when they asserted their right to the trademarked terms "Urban Homestead®" and "Urban Homesteading®." Urban farmers, supporters of the movement, food writers and others have loudly protested what they assert is a step across the line when it comes to protection of intellectual property and free expression.
The fierce backlash has spawned a Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) Facebook page (the odd punctuation is an effort to prevent the Dervaes family from filing a trademark complaint against the page) and a petition to cancel the trademarks on "Urban Homestead" and "Urban Homesteading."
The Dervaes family responded today with a press release that explains their approach to the trademark filing:
The Dervaes family project is known as the Urban Homestead®. While they did not come up with the name Urban Homesteading®, they defined its current, specific application. Desiring to safeguard that description of their daily life, Dervaes Institute applied for and received "service marks" for the phrases used in reference to their non-profit work. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office website, a service mark "identifies and distinguishes the source of a service" and is used interchangeably with "trademark."
What the Dervaeses do is to promote Urban Homesteading as a lifestyle. The objective of acquiring the trademarks was to avoid confusion on the part of the general public and users. In the attempt to maintain the reputation and integrity of the trademarks, Dervaes Institute has privately informed, to date, a total of 16 organizations, publishers and businesses about the proper usage of the registered terms. No threat was made against anyone's first amendment rights; yet, there has been a heated argument in the media against what should have been the Dervaeses' normal rights to protect their trademarks.
Via their Twitter account, the Dervaeses denied they are suing bloggers for use of the terms. Their website featured a blog until as recently as yesterday, but that blog is now inactive. Cached copies of posts from the blog, though, show a series of eight posts between February 16 and 18 defending their position, calling for an end to "harassing emails, comments and calls" they say they have been receiving, and provides the text of the cease and desist letter they sent to those who they consider to be in violation of the trademark.
According an article by Twilight Greenaway in The Bay Citizen, among those who received a copy of the letter was K. Ruby Blume, founder of Oakland's Institute of Urban Homesteading. And Harriet Ells, a producer at KCRW in Santa Monica, tweeted that the radio station received one of the letters regarding a post on the blog that supports Evan Kleiman's Good Food program.
"I don't know about you, but this sure doesn't sound like a path to freedom to me but rather a branding of a lifestyle that doesn't belong to them," wrote Deanna Duke of The Crunchy Chicken. "It's like trademarking 'farming'."
Heidi Kooy of Itty Bitty Farm in the City said the controversy left her hurt, then angry, then, finally, sorry for the Dervaes family and their unwillingness to back down from their position.
If they could only bury the self-aggrandizing flag and realize that all of us urban homesteaders have something of real value to contribute to the conversation. Each urban homestead is different - different projects, different configurations.. Each person or family faces their own challenges. Most of my urban farmy friends read loads of blogs from all kinds of folks in all kinds of situations. We learn from each other. I'm certain there is room for all of us at the urban homesteading table.
And to anyone else out there who thinks they are singular in their self-sufficiency ideas (don't even get me started on whether or not any idea is truly our own -- we borrow from everyone else and we all know it), I say phooey to you. Tell that to my friend Martin, who grew up with Chinese immigrant parents. They always kept a chicken in a shopping cart out in their Richmond district neighborhood of San Francisco. Or to my neighbor who told me one day while I was out walking my goats that his Mexican immigrant father who lived only a couple blocks away kept rabbits and chickens for food over 20 years ago. And what about the Asian families in my neighborhood who use every inch of ground to grow something edible?
The controversy is not going to go away quickly. Already, bloggers on the anti-Dervaes Facebook page are mobilizing for an organized day of posting about this situation in particular and the urban farming lifestyle in general. The theory behind the action? That a flood of blog posts will overwhelm the Dervaes family's ability to take legal action while showing the terms in question are ubiquitous enough that no one has the right to trademark them.
Weigh in on the controversy in the comments below.
More from food