Pasadena family enforces its trademark of the term "Urban Homestead"

Above, a 2004 catalog from an apple tree company called Urban Homestead. Will they have to cede to the demands of the Dervaes Family to stop using the term "urban homestead?"

The Dervaes Family, who run a great urban farm in Pasadena, CA, is catching a lot of heat from urban homesteaders. They are objecting to a letter the Dervaes Family sent out a couple of days ago to let bloggers know that the terms "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading" are trademarks owned by the Dervaes Institute. They registered the terms in 2008.

From Farm Curious:

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!

Here's an excerpt from the Dervaes Institute letter:
In addition, Dervaes Institute owns numerous trademarks which should be properly acknowledged if used. These protected names and images include the following registered trademarks:

Also, THE TEN ELEMENTS OF URBAN HOMSTEADING copyright has been filed with the Library of Congress.
If your use of one of these phrases is not to specifically identify products or services from the Dervaes Institute, then it would be proper to use generic terms to replace the registered trademark you are using. For example, when discussing general homesteading or other people's projects, they should be referred to using terms such as 'modern homesteading,' 'urban sustainability projects,' or similar descriptions.

The Wikipedia entry for Path to Freedom (the Dervaes Family website) has a recent update about this:

In 2008, the Dervaes filed to trademark the terms "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading," among others. In October 2010 their trademark was finally approved under the supplemental registry after initially being denied due to their reason for trademarking not being distinctive enough. In 2011 they began sending notifications to maintainers of websites who used these terms that these terms were now under their trademark and that they were not to be used without crediting the Dervaes family. Critics (such as blogger Crunchy Chicken) claim that this trademark is unenforceable, since the term "urban homestead" has been in use since at least the 1970s. For example, the New York Urban Homestead Assistance Board was founded in the 1970s in order to provide support during the economic crisis of that time. The Dervaes assert that they are protecting a legitimate business interest, and that their trademark of the term "urban homesteading" prevents corporations from doing the same thing. On February 16, 2011, in light of the negative press stemming from this controversy and claiming they have received threats from critics, the Dervaes shut down their Facebook page.
Here's a Facebook page started by self-professed "urban homesteaders" who are protesting the Dervaes action.

The Dervaes Family has been responding to criticism on their Twitter page. The OC Weekly is all over this story.


  1. If registered trademarks are so important why don’t they put the (R) next to all mentions of urban homestead etc on their own website.?

  2. Here’s what I don’t understand: It’s pretty clear that they are well-loved and widely respected. People would visit the farm, buy their products, etc.

    Why the sudden need to “protect” their “interests?”

  3. I really wanted to recommend this company to some friends of mine, but seeing as their name was trademarked, I had to refer to them as F*cking J*rks in all the emails I sent. I think that sums up their position more aptly than the name that must not be mentioned.

  4. Make sure that you’re also mentioning that the Dervaes family Twitterfeed says that the letters are not from them. I’d hate for BoingBoing to target someone only to have it be false.

    1. The quibble is they didn’t send out a “cease & desist” letter. That’s right. They didn’t. You can’t find the phrase in the letter. So, perhaps people are misrepresenting what the letter says technically, but there is a lot of language about protecting their business interests and they clearly feel that they’ve done more for urban homestead than anyone else. So, they suggest other phrases if you want to talk about homesteading generally or, if you want to refer to their products, how to use their trademarks properly. So, while it doesn’t say “you will cease and desist” it sure implies it.

    1. I don’t think that’s a fair conclusion to draw here. I personally dealt with them on a few occasions – in fact I am raising a hen from their homestead and they’re a very humble and passionate hard working family. I certainly don’t think they’re on the path to riches nor is it their real motivation so to call what they are doing “greedy” is off base. Their slogan is “path to freedom” which is something they are succeeding in doing.

      I think whatever reputation they built up over the years for their work should be something they ought to be able to associate with a name or logo so that people can recognize what they do. I wouldn’t blame them for wanting to create and establish this sort of branding since their body of work is pretty admirable.

      1. Accidental assholes are still assholes. If they were too stupid to realize that they were requesting and using a state-granted monopoly (which is what it is) on a term commonly used by their customers and “community” to identify themselves, they deserve the response as much as if it were deliberate. There were several alternatives for branding which would have been more appropriate.

        Shame on the USPTO for granting this in contradiction to their previous ruling, and shame on them for their persistent flagrancy.

        On a side note, is it legitimate to use a notice like “The term (whatever) is an abusive trademark of the litigious bastards at (company name).”?

      2. They may be humble and passionate and hard-working, but they’ve bought themselves a heapin’ helping of ill will by doing this. Nobody would gripe if they registered a trademark based upon their family name, or some corporate slogan that is not indicative of a process or method or way-of-life that they neither singlehandedly invented nor (arguably) perfected.


        Other than “Grow The Future” (which sounds like something you’d read on the side of a Green Giant can o’ beans), none of those trademarked phrases resemble a description of an exclusive, unique, brand-identifiable, marketable concept. In fact, they are phrases which have been used in countless contexts for decades (at least) before the family thought to trademark them. I’d say those trademarks should not have been granted, but of course, such decisions are not left up to me.

        Maybe a court will eventually overturn their trademark, maybe not, but the thing is, no matter how lovely these people actually are, trying to enforce a trademark on such a commonly used sequence of words is gonna look like a seriously Dick Move founded only in greed, so they kinda brought this on themselves.

  5. Considering the fact that ‘urban homesteading’ and ‘path to freedom’ are terms that have been used in who knows how many books for who knows how many years, it would seem that these dickweeds are dealing with some plagiarism issues that could come back and bite them on their collective asses. Additionally, this over-the-top greed can’t be winning them any friends among the people who would’ve been their likely customer base, which will ultimately destroy their business…couldn’t have happened to a nicer couple.

  6. “For example, when discussing general homesteading or other people’s projects, they should be referred to using terms such as ‘modern homesteading'”.

    So, what general term would I use to describe homesteading in an urban setting?

  7. I wonder what would happen if say a large corporation like Walmart or the Martha Stewart brand decided to get in on the chic aspect of urban homestead lifestyle and started pushing out mass produced goods labeled with some close derivative of the name “Urban Homestead” … say a line of gardening tools or the like… I think in such a case, you’d want the Devraes family to be able to say that a third party is taking advantage of the goodwill and reputation that was built up in the name related to “Urban Homestead” and is trying to derive benefit from that without justly compensating them for the use of a term they are chiefly associated with. I don’t see a problem with establishing some kind of remedy for a branding case like that and they’re doing the smart thing by being proactive in securing what “urban homestead” has grown to become for them.

    Now I understand they’re not the only people on Earth or in the US who are trying to live in this kind of self-sufficient manner, deriving resources from the labor and fruits of their labor from their small urban-based plot of land. I’ve seen communes in Berkeley do the same. They are however a pretty prominent player in the field so whatever they can do to keep their work free of potential encroachment isn’t such an evil thing to do.

    1. They sound like fine people. They probably got bad legal advice, and unfortunately managed to get registered a service mark which is clearly ineligible for uspto protection.

      You cannot “brand” descriptive terms, for the obvious reason that if it’s descriptive, then the term in no way distinguishes your product from that of another in the same field.

      It’s overreaching to abuse trademark protection in an attempt to monopolize a field of activity by claiming sole right to use the terms commonly used to describe that activity.

      “Dervaes Homesteading” is a great conceptual bucket into which they can collect goodwill. So is “”.

    2. It doesn’t matter how nice they are, and it doesn’t matter what their intent is. They are not the only ones who have built up this goodwill. They are prominent in the field, but the quasi-mainstream acceptance of this is a result of the work of thousands of people and organizations over the last 30 years, whom they are now attempting to exclude from the use of these (relatively common) words. This includes people who had already published books and articles under the name “Urban Homesteading” before the trademark was registered.

      And even though they claim it is not a cease-and-desist letter, it contains the following:
      “If your use of one of these phrases is not to specifically identify products or services from the Dervaes Institute, then it would be proper to use generic terms to replace the registered trademark you are using. For example, when discussing general homesteading or other people’s projects, they should be referred to using terms such as ‘modern homesteading,’ ‘urban sustainability projects,’ or similar descriptions.”

      It is polite, but it is very clear: they expect us to cede all use of the words urban homesteading to them and invent a new generic phrase.

      In this case, what should we do? Come up with new phrases and use them until somebody figures out the “first-to-file” gambit to claim them too? No. We’re going to keep using that phrase, and we’re going to support other people’s right to use it, because a) it is “merely descriptive” and b) the supplemental register doesn’t allow them to issue this sort of letter or take such heavy-handed tactics as deleting other people’s hard-built Facebook pages.

      I wrote a much longer article on it over here in case you would like to see my reasoned argument rather than a (slightly ranty) comment version: How to Build a 1500 Follower Facebook Page in 24 Hours

  8. I guess they decided that IP was a more lucrative business to be in then, you know, growing food and stuff.

    We hear a lot about patent trolls, but if they’re really quick, maybe they could register “trademark troll!”

  9. In 2008, Jules Dervaes also operated a cluster of websites promoting prophecies of the “end times” and criticizing the Worldwide Church of God. The site’s mission was “TO SHOW that repeated WARNINGS to God’s Church, beginning in 1986 after Mr. Herbert Armstrong’s death, were ignored, by documenting the outright rejection of the messages; TO WARN God’s people that the unique challenge of the Last Era is continuing to be met with the wrong solutions or none at all; TO ANNOUNCE the true and only way we can be prepared for the establishment of the Kingdom of God and Christ’s Second Coming.”[7]

    An archived version of these websites can be found here. In 2011, Dervaes took the websites down.

    1. I’ve never heard of these people, but that was exactly the bit of info I was expecting to hear. “Hmm, strangely litigious/protective crunchy urban farmer types? THEY AWAIT THE ESCHATON.”

  10. We have never heard of these people yet we have called ourselves Urban Homesteaders for over a year now. How can they claim ownership over words that describe how people are living? Could I create a trademark on the word Suburbanites? Or City Folk? How about Vegetarians?

  11. It’s twitter posts like this:

    “Getting ready for the Urban HomeStand(tm) Market on Sunday featuring local (homegrown) foods & goods. You coming?…

    …that make me think(tm) they’re idiots(tm).

    The way to generate good will and loyal customers is not by shoving a damn trademark in everyone’s face.

    Hell, you don’t see Walmart plastering ™ over every damn thing or telling that they have to change their site name to peopleofwalmart(tm) and telling bloggers they must refer to them as walmart(tm). That’s just stupid. And if Walmart isn’t even that stupid then that should tell you something.

    All this(tm) is just a big heaping(tm) pile of self-serving(tm), “Look(tm) at us! We’ve got a trademark!(tm)”

    Which all seems very ironic given the ahem…”nature” of their product.

  12. Their twitter feed says “Not in our name! Recent “pay up & stop” letters are not, we repeat NOT, from us. Stop spreading lies.”

  13. “You’re on the Path To Freedom(tm) now, but there’s a detour where you have to to around the part of the path we blocked off. Sorry ’bout that, y’all come back now y’hear?”


    is this an extension of an almost-eastside-vs-north-north-eastside rivalry?

    part of me loves that our little cityregion can harbor pretty vicious fights over growing vegetables at home. hey, guys, we’re getting closer to becoming like portland!!! hurrah! next stop: working mass transit!

    but more of me is sad that this whole thing isn’t opensourced, in a way of speaking. what do the dervaes family gain by protecting those words? dilution of market share – what market? i realize that they earn almost all of their livelihood by being one-of-few vendors of true, homegrown crops, (differentiation by exclusivity) but why spread a message for others to follow and then keep other people from wanting to express that same message?

    if they want livelihood, they should stop spreading the message.
    if they want to spread the ethos, they should stop bogarting the language.


    (aside, hi, mark! i saw you at the graphic design history lecture the other day! my inner fanboy jumped.)

  15. I imagine some folks at High Times might have something to say about the historic use of HOMEGROWN REVOLUTION®.

  16. It is an absolutely unethical family. They use their volunteers to send requests to Facebook to shut down accounts of other homesteaders over the USA making false claim that their trademark registration for several common phrases like “urban homesteading”, “urban homestead” allows this family to have an exclusive rights of use for those common words and phrases. Trademark law doesn’t give such exclusivity to the type of trademark they own. This family caused damages to many groups when facebook and blogs were disabled because of their claims. They don’t want Urban homesteading movement to grow – they want to get royaly and benefits from trademark registration.

  17. Dervaes’s trademark is in SUPPLEMENTAL REGISTER. It means that they almost have no rights. Obviously they have no rights for any exclusivity on this common phrases. The problem is with Facebook that terminates accounts immediatly on violation of trademark rights. Facebook doesn’t investigate and search complicated Trademark Law. We still can start CANCELLATION PROCEEDING (and we need to do it), file A PETITION TO CANCEL in US Patent and Trademark Office and create a precedent to prevent future appearance of new dervaes. We are damaged because of weak points of the Trademark Law, unethical behaviour of Dervaes and unfair treatment of Facebook.

    1. Dervaes’s trademark is in SUPPLEMENTAL REGISTER. It means that they almost have no rights. Obviously they have no rights for any exclusivity on this common phrases. The problem is with Facebook that terminates accounts immediatly on violation of trademark rights. Facebook doesn’t investigate and search complicated Trademark Law.

      Completely wrong. The trademark for Urban Homestead is on the principal register, Dervaes does have exclusive rights, and Facebook didn’t have much choice in the matter.

  18. Oh, the irony! ;-)

    The people trying to ‘protect’ their (hard earned) trademark – – have a link on their page titled “The Nitty-Gritty Facts & Stats”.. Hmm.. Reckon the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band gave them permission? ;-)

    Recommended reading “The Culture of Make Believe”.. ;-)


    1. Nitty gritty was not ‘invented’ by the Dirt Band and I suspect you may not be familiar with its true origin.

    2. Actually, they have the phrase “urban homestead” registered on the Principal Register, so it’s a real trademark (for now — until someone successfully petitions to cancel it, which can’t happen a moment too soon as far as I’m concerned). It’s the phrase “urban homesteading” that’s only on the Supplemental Register and therefore not a “real” trademark.

  19. The problem with this is that it’s NOT a Pasadena-only thing- their request to Facebook to have ‘offending’ Facebook pages removed has now affected my local San Francisco-area urban farm education center, Institute for Urban Homesteading, and my friends’ Denver farmers’ market institution, Denver Urban Homesteaders.

  20. I’m fascinated by the irony of their actions vs. what they purport to stand for. I’m thrilled at the collective outrage & community building that is happening as a result.
    I find the term homestead problematic (& I yak on about it here: ) but I am disgusted by them trademarking a term that has been in common usage since far before they begun their endeavors and that which is not their concept, their idea or their knowledge. It is gross.

  21. I’ve been following their blog for years now and I can’t say how extremely disapointing I find this attitude.

    I’m pretty sure this is all because some people were re-blogging a lot of articles and images without due credit but this overkill posture is just going to scare off a lot of people.

  22. it’s about as daft as Microsoft trademarking “Windows”…

    they settled the last case they brought as they were going to lose and lose the trademark…

  23. I’m coming into this debate late as usual but it seems to me that their claim on these phrases is a bit like Sarah Palin claiming trademark rights on the phrase ‘Tea Party’. Like the Dervaes she has some claim to be a ‘figurehead’ in a movement. Like them she has gone someway to popularising a term. In her case its ‘Tea Party’. Like ‘Urban Homesteading’ the phrase has also been in common use before the ‘Tea Party’ actually claimed ‘Tea Party’ as a way to describe themselves. Now, I know she hasn’t actually claimed trademark rights on this. She wouldn’t because the movement she claims to be spearheading would no doubt get pretty irate. Furthermore by limiting the spread of the ‘Tea Party’ phrase she would be handicapping the spread of the movement she purports to be a leader in….
    Reading this back it makes no sense…anyway. What I’m trying to say is – why are the Urban Homesteaders taking this lying down?

  24. Given that ‘liberty garden’ is a term that dates back to WWI, I also find it hard to believe that they were able tm the synonymous (and equally generic) ‘freedom garden.’

    I guess we should tell them that ‘freedom isn’t free’ doesn’t refer to paying off tm-trolls.

  25. This term was widely used by the “subsistence homesteading” movement in the 1930s. In fact a federal agency, the Division of Subsistence Homesteads, built numerous urban homesteads in the 1930s–including in Gardena, California. These Dervaes Institute poseurs are, as Senoaid and others have said, trading on the goodwill built up by many people over nearly a century.

    That is cheating. It is enclosing the social and intellectual commons.

  26. WOW! the backlash is amazing. You can watch their business self destruct before your very eyes. From the looks of how things are going, I expect them to “throw in the towel”. I know plenty of hard-working(TM) urban homesteaders, and it would be a shame to see their efforts harmed by this family that some of you refer to as “good people”
    plus: in their blog posts they appear to be stoned and drunk.

  27. The current system for intellectual property registration is a joke. One supposes the only solution is to render the term generic as quickly as possible; I plan on using it as a term for a crack house or meth lab.

  28. Screw them … Now it will just have to be called Urban Farming… Urban homesteading… your fired! (screw Trump too)

  29. I don’t want to kick them when they are down, but the linked ad for the apple tree folks at the to appears to be a copyright violation as well. The yellow shape, a rectangle, is one that I copyrighted quite a while back. My lawyers will be in contact with them shortly. Some people have no respect for the IP of others.

  30. I’m really confused. I’ve never heard of the Dervaes Institute, but I love The Urban Homestead by Coyne and Knutzen, which I believe Mark F turned me on to on this very blog. The Urban Homestead was published 2008. Are Coyne and Knutzen supposed to re-title and re-issue their book now?

  31. Ok… that’s the second time in a week that I’ve come across someone using trademarking to abscond with ordinary English words and phrases. It is time for massive retaliation. Launch 10 million blog items, websites, twitter vociferously, write stories and articles, create YouTube videos — whatever you can think of — using the offending “trademarked” terms. Stop, I say, lest we become a race of pantomimers.

  32. it seems as if the first step to enforcing a trademark claim is notifying the infringing parties that they are in violation. this is what the dervaes letter does. even if the tone is somewhat nicer than saying “cease and desist or else” it still tells the receiver that they are in violation and they should stop. the dervaes claim that they are not going to sue (on their twitter, etc.) seems beside the point. they have taken the first step to being able to file suit. so, it seems as if they are trying to act as if they are not threatening, when, in fact, they have begun walking the path to lawsuit already.

  33. too bad. as an urban homesteader since the late seventies, I have used the term urban homestead repeatedly to describe my intensive farming and self sufficiency efforts. When I found their website, I thought they were interesting, if a little pompous and “oh look at what I discovered!” sort of precious.
    Now they’re just assholes. And not very far advanced in their knowledge or efforts.
    May they be Monstered into oblivion. For myself, any mention of them, their books or website will start with, and end with, a discussion of the evils of predatory delusion. They are not unique, creative or original in any sense and have a good ways to go before they match up to the many others they are irritating with their tantrums.
    Guy Fawkes, where are you?

  34. USA copyright law is going out of control. Almost any word or phrase can be protected, e.g., Staple’s “That was Easy.”

    Let’s copyright ‘NO TIME TO LOSE’ as in the Monty Python sketch:

  35. They issued a press release that basically says bloggers suck:

    They state: “No threat was made against anyone’s first amendment rights” yet they fail to address the facebook group takedowns, or this DMCA takedown that they apparently sent to Google:

    in which they seem to be targeting the amazon search results for the Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen book “Urban Homesteading.”

    I can’t speak to the authenticity of the takedown notice on chilling effects, but the Dervaeses certainly should.

    1. #67 OK. So “Urban Homestead” is on the Principal Register

      “Urban Homesteading” is in supplemental register.

  36. Dervaes don’t want to understand that if any other word is added to “urban homesteading” and a new phrase is made and used it isn’t their business any more. But they unlawfully contacted FB through a third party to shut down FB pages. They order us to stop using common phrases completely. Never anybody attempted with such crazy idea to prohibit common words and phrases. They will lose in any court. The only problem is we must waste our time now to cancel damaging trademarks. They don’t leave us a choice.

  37. How can any company own the trademark APPLE? The word’s been in use since the Garden of Eden? What about TIDE? IVORY? MILKY WAY? It’s outrageous !!! Not.

  38. Effective immediately, I am going to trademark the dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia and the entire English language. Anyone who wishes to read, write or speak in English will now need to get my express permission in writing, after reading this and speaking to me … oops, how are they going to do that? Hmm…

  39. at a time where we have governmental agencies, politicians, and the top 1% of the American population who are wealthy are patenting our food and seeds…i find it disheartening that folks in community are trademarking words that describe community, sharing and life. Its sad to me that in a time where i feel people should be coming together and sharing…many people are trying to make a buck and or take credit for information and ways of living that are as old as time.

    Instead of getting upset and letting this ruin your day…use the word…that is what its there for. The family doing this …i have no idea what their intention is when it comes to the trademark. My hope is that its good….if not..thats a shame. the term itself isn’t even a positive term to use. Homesteading describes a movement that STOLE native land in hopes of spreading mostly white european immigrants around.

    i believe that the family, with the demanding request to acknowledge their work will suffer within the movement they take great claim being part of. My hope is that we have more inventive and creative terms to use from our language that better describe the movement…and all its subtext.

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