UPDATED: Trademarks, Copyrights & Thieves, OH MY!

Posted on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 | By Alycia Lang |
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' urbanhomestead.org 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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