to educate, inspire and equip the urban homesteader

UPDATED: Trademarks, Copyrights & Thieves, OH MY!

February 16, 2011

An unpatented homestead!

Can you trademark a term like “Urban Homesteading“??  The Dervaes Family of Pasadena, California claim to have done so and they’re trying to get all of us to stop using THEIR WORD!  All this trademarking of the terms “Urban Homestead®” and the internet uproar got me in a tizzy so I decided to do a little of my own sleuthing.  This is what I found:

By now many of you have heard that the famous (infamous?) Dervaes Family has created a Cease and Desist-type letter with the intent of enforcing their trademark on the following terms:

  • Also, THE TEN ELEMENTS OF URBAN HOMSTEADING [sic] copyright has been filed with the Library of Congress.

I have confirmed that the letters have been sent to organizations such as Oakland’s Institute of Urban Homesteading and Denver Urban Homesteading.  This is unconfirmed as far as I’m concerned, but I also found a DMCA Complaint letter supposedly issue to Google from the Dervaes Institute regarding a trademark infringement via websearch.  You can see the reaction letter that The Institute of Urban Homesteading sent to their members yesterday here.

Yesterday, I called the number the family lists on their website (626.795.8400) to find out for myself what the deal is, as the language on their site is very confusing.  They actually state on the site right above their letter that “It’s a false, made up claim that people are jumping over themselves to make us look bad.”  After speaking to a volunteer, Janice, who kindly returned my call with a shaking, nearly terrified and clearly inexperienced in the ways of the legal world, voice, I was assured that the letter is real but the “false, made up claim” is that it is an actual “cease and desist”.  It’s a letter to inform people who are using the terms of the proper ways they can be used under their trademark.  When I asked if periodicals, non-profits and bloggers alike would be targeted she repeated that anyone using those terms is in violation.

I also did a little searching with the US Patent and Trademark Office to find out for myself whether these terms are really trademarked and this is what I found:

“Urban Homestead” – Filed September 19, 2008, it is to represent these goods and services:

“IC 041. US 100 101 107. G & S: Educational services, namely, conducting informal programs in the fields of sustainable living, organic foods and gardening, homesteading, the environment, and conservation, using on-line activities and interactive exhibits; entertainment services, namely, providing a web site featuring photographs and audio and video recordings featuring instruction and current events reporting on sustainable living, organic foods and gardening, the environment, and conservation; on-line journals, namely, blogs featuring the subjects of sustainable living, organic foods and gardening, the environment, and conservation. FIRST USE: 20021200. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20030100″

It was filed by “Dervaes Institute CORPORATION CALIFORNIA 631 Cypress Avenue Pasadena CALIFORNIA 91103″

The term “Urban Homesteading” is also trademarked; incidentally, the term “Urban Homesteader” is not yet trademarked there’s still opportunity for other back-to-the-earth publicity-whores to cash in.

In fact, it appears their original application to trademark the term “Urban Homestead” was denied based on the fact that it’s a generally descriptive term open to use by anyone.  You can track the entire application process for their trademark of “Urban Homestead” here.  You can also see here that on Dec 9, 2008 their original application was refused because “Many entities provide a variety of print and online publications and services on the same subject matter.” In order to execute their trademark application, they had to go back and show evidence that they had “acquired distinctiveness” through exclusive (which we know to be untrue) and extensive (which is not deniable) use of the term.  What I don’t understand is why the application was approved in the end; even though they could show extensive use, they certainly couldn’t demonstrate exclusive use of the term.

While, to their credit, the Dervaes have done much to advance the “Urban Homesteading” movement, it seems absurd to me that they could claim ownership of the term which is commonly used and was referenced as early as 1980 in this Mother Earth News article!

In fact, in my search I found another trademark for “The Urban Homesteading Assistance Board” from 1979.  According to their website,  “The Urban Homesteading Assistance Board transforms renters into homeowners who collectively own and democratically govern true housing co-operatives that will remain affordable, in perpetuity, to people of modest means.”  I wonder what their reaction would be if they were sent the Dervaes’ letter?!  What would the low-income people in the Bronx think of the Dervaes’ silly trademark?  And maybe some lawyer can explain to me how the two trademark filings don’t conflict with each other.

This all seems like such a contraction to me as The Dervaes’ sites About Page states:

Please note that Path to Freedom is a noncommercial, family-operated venture. We devote countless hours to this site, and, despite the opportunity for profit, we remain committed to keeping it an advertisement-free forum. We do this because we believe in giving freely to others, a value upon which strong, healthy communities are built. We hope you will take this principle to heart, and will view this site not just as a place to “take” (answers, ideas, inspiration), but as an opportunity to “give” as well. Whatever you may gain by reading about our journey, please remember to “pay it forward” to others in some fashion. Together, we can ignite a revolution of spirit that will truly change our world for the better!.”

Trademarking a term used by many before and after you does not seem like “giving freely to others”, now does it?


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  • If it stands, and we can no longer use these terms without being in violation of trademark, what do we call it? “Self-sufficiency” doesn’t work, as not all urban homesteaders are, nor desire to be, self-sufficient. Micro-, mini- farming? How long before that’s trademarked? Clearly the system is broken at its core. Trademarking an activity such as this is unnecessary. It’s prohibitive, and counter productive. I even have a problem with ‘Freedom Gardens’. How do they get to TM that term too? Isn’t that what we were all calling our 21st century Victory gardens? Honestly, I’m completely dumbfounded. Hiding behind the concept of protecting intellectual property is absurd. Urban Homesteading is no more their intellectual property than micro-farming is mine. How pretentious.

  • Thanks for your comment, Clare. I don’t know that it would ever stand up in court- thing is, who has the time/money to fight them?

    By the way, if anyone wants to post comments on the Dervaes’ site, the page with their letter is blocked for comments but their other pages are still open.

  • The Dervaes Institute is incorporated as a church. No kidding.

    James Bertini
    Denver Urban Homesteading

  • The larger problem is government granting a monopoly on the use of common words and phrases. The trademarks should have never been granted in the first place. Intellectual property is being abused and needs to be reigned in, ESPECIALLY when applied to common words and phrases. Allowing this to happen simply opens the door to abuse. I mean really: how does the term “urban homestead” constitute *intellectual* property?

  • Very well written. i’ve been reading up on this today, and find myself very disappointed at their actions. Looking forward to reading more as you look into this deeper. I am involved in the local food movement as a way to create an economy based on principles of sharing, not competition.

  • I’ve never been happy with their Non-Profit status and yet they are sooooo commercial…buy this, buy that…pay me to give advice…give me, give me, give me.
    I participated in a Grand Jury investigation of a local Non-Profit in my county: I suggest someone follow the money…something is really fishing in Devaes-land.

  • i’ve really admired all that the dervaes family have done, but this really disappoints me. i just don’t see the point. and i’m sure that the term urban homestead was used for this project – – enacted during the New Deal. Such utter silliness.

    btw, i’ve dealt with janice in person when i picked up some ollas from the dervaes’ last summer. i think that’s her general personality. i feel sorry for her that she is now having to deal with aftermath of this shit storm. not a job for a sensitive soul.

  • Their site seems to be down now. I hope this is just a miscommunication of their intention.

  • Great post, I didn’t catch the Mother Earth article. But I did find it interesting that even had reference to urban under the definition of homesteading.

    Here were my comments….

    Man the Dervaes are dumb, greedy dumb. They just killed their business by one poor legal strategy.

  • Hi, I’m an old friend of Rachel Brinkerhoff’s. She told me about your dilemma and I remembered this site:

    and particularly this passage:

    A trademark owner by choosing a descriptive term as its trademark must live with the result that an author remains free to write about or use the trademark in its “primary” or descriptive sense. Legal doctrine defines fair use of a trademark as the “reasonable and good faith use of a descriptive term that is another’s trademark to describe rather than to identify the user’s goods, services or business”.


  • Apparently there is more out there than just a ‘normal, professional and informative letter’ to bloggers, etc. Check out this DMCA complaint letter to Google dated February 13, 2011:

  • Thanks for all the info. I became a fan of theirs several years ago and thought they were getting a good message out to the masses but I can’t possibly support them now. This is disappointing, frustrating and more than a bit mindblowing. I didn’t realize that my local farmer’s market- DENVER URBAN HOMESTEADING- was so directly affected until reading this article. They are literally 1 block from my house and have made all the difference in this neighborhood by bringing a sense of community and interactions with local businesses & entrepreneurs that was non-existent before. It makes me a little sick to think the Dervaes are creating such a hassle for people that work hard and are simply trying to do something nice for their communities.

  • It’s just another sick manifestation of the “everything must be owned” mentality.

    I don’t care WHAT they claim to have trademarked. I will use their Holy Forbidden Words wherever and whenever I want, in speech, print, and any other place I bloody well feel like it. To the Dervaes: stop trying to own the English language. It isn’t going to work, and I don’t care what piece of paper you have file with the government.

  • Thermos




    All trademarks that have been made generic (even though some of the trademarks are still in force).

    So if we all continue to use the term urban homesteading just like we always have for decades, what are they going to do? Take all of us to court?

    That would be interesting. Let ‘em try. I’m not going to stop using the term. Should I start looking for civil liberties attorney now?

  • Dervaes wants money to become a landlord and get control of 60 families. He needs millions of dollars for his crazy idea and he wants all urban homesteaders to pay him royalty because of his trademark. He isn’t satisfied that he obuses his own family. His poor kids have no normal life. Read about this family – read carefully and see which kind of life his kids had and have. One son Jeremy escaped from his father’s control, and he hides from them now. He told to some people that obuse in the family was horrible. You can see from the article that Dervaes doesn’t let his kids to have personal life before they move to a big land with 60 other families. Poor kids! They waste their life for farther’s cruelty and they don’t understand it. They didn’t go to school. I can imagine which kind of eduction this religious fanatic could give to his kids.
    Read this sad family story:

    • Irina, I personally know the family (and have for many years) and your assertions are looney. Don’t put things online that you can’t support with facts.

  • Based on some trademark stuff I’ve gone through I have a feeling you can add like Bay Area Urban Homesteading etc. or some adjective in front of that that will differentiate it from the “generic” phrases, at least to work around it, while hopefully their claim will be squashed.