Can You Trademark Urban Homesteading?

News that a family well known from practicing self-sufficiency decided to trademark the terms "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading" has shocked many.

The Dervaes family of Pasadena is well-known for practicing self-sufficiency on their urban lot. They grow over 7000 pounds of food. They use very little power from the grid. They have been an inspiration to many in the urban homesteading movement.

So, the news that they had trademarked the terms "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading"(or URBAN HOMESTEAD™ and URBAN HOMESTEADING™ as developed by the DERVAES INSTITUTE™, as we're now supposed to write it) fairly stunned the URBAN HOMESTEADING™ community.

Note: Since the Dervaes' family - or more specifically their lawyers - are spending much of this week threatening bloggers and urban homesteaders on Facebook with legal threats for using these trademarked terms, I'm going to play it safe and just put a trademark symbol on everything they might want to sue me over. Who knows what other trademarks they have and how far they'll go to take ownership of this important movement? Also, I'm trying to make a point here. Bear with me until the end of the post, please.

Trademarking Common Phrases?

Part of the confusion stems from wondering why on Earth these terms (and others, including PATH TO FREEDOM™, HOMEGROWN REVOLUTION™, and FREEDOM GARDENS™ would ever be granted trademarks in the first place. After all, they're all fairly common terms that have been used for decades - particularly URBAN HOMESTEADING™ and FREEDOM GARDENS™. What's next? Do people start trademarking phrases like "green grass" or "vegetable garden?" How about "organic garden?" And if someone can trademark one type of lifestyle, such as URBAN HOMESTEADING™, then what about others, such as "suburbanite," "soccer mom," or "heavy drinker?"


The second, and perhaps biggest, source of confusion is why the Dervaes family would trademark these terms in the first place. Why effectively take these words away from the community at large (unless we credit them, of course) when language and labels are such a huge part of what holds a community together? They've said that they did so to protect their intellectual property. As someone who writes for a living, I get that. 100%. There's a special place in Hades for plagiarizers and content scrapers. I just don't understand how trademarking phrases that have been in existence since at least the 1970s (if you're being conservative) and that they didn't invent, protects their intellectual property. If that's the case, I'm so going to trademark "Detroit gardener." I am one, after all. And I am totally unique.

I've trademarked this post properly, partially because I wanted to see what it would look like. Most media outlets have resisted doing so. Does anyone else think it looks completely ridiculous? Is this what we want people to see when URBAN HOMESTEADING™ is covered in the media? From where I sit, it's not a pretty sight.

Colleen Vanderlinden is the co-author of the book Edible Gardening for the Midwest, (Lone Pine Publishing, 2009) as well as the Organic Gardening expert for She writes about gardening for Planet Green, and is a regular contributor to Mother Earth News magazine.
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