Trademark Battle Heats Up!
Three small business owners who are part of a national grassroots movement to try to cancel the trademark on the term ‘fire cider’ are being sued for $100,000 in damages by the holder of the trademark, Massachusetts-based herbal company Shire City Herbals.
The new lawsuit is Shire City Herbal’s latest response to a petition filed in June of 2014 with the US Trademark Office to cancel the trademark on the term “Fire Cider, a common product made by many small herbs farms and herbalists. The trademark petition is based on extensive documentation that the term ‘fire cider’ is generic and was in widespread use in commerce for several decades before the trademark was issued.
The civil lawsuit filed federal court in Springfield, MA in April against Nicole Telkes of Austin, TX, Mary Blue of Providence, RI and Katheryn Langelier of Union, ME seeks damages of $100,000 for lost business due to the defendants alleged activities. In February of 2014, two months before the lawsuit was filed, Amy Huebner, owner of Shire City Herbal’s publicly stated that the boycott “effectively doubled their business”.
Telkes, Blue and Langelier are represented by attorneys from the law firm Verrill Dana in both the trademark petition and the new civil lawsuit.
“Words that are the name of a product itself (like “Fire Cider” or “Bloody Mary”) are not trademarks, so others are free to use them to describe or identify their goods. There are mechanisms in place for the public to help the US Patent and Trademark Office correct an error like this when it allows a generic term to be registered. It’s unfortunate that the registrants took the more aggressive step of suing Mary, Nicole and Kathi in federal court just because they are standing up for everyone else. We are honored to work with them to free “Fire Cider” so farmers and others can continue to use it as they always have.” said the defendants lawyer, Rita Heimes.
Telkes, Blue and Langelier have more than 40 years of combined experience as herbalists, farmers and educators. In fact, Telkes and Blue originally met volunteering in a post hurricane Katrina health clinic, offering disaster relief support in New Orleans in 2006.
Defendant Nicole Telkes explained her reaction to the civil lawsuit as well as her concerns about the Shire City Herbals trademark. “At first I was very shocked and overwhelmed to be sued for $100,000. It’s definitely not something I ever imagined happening to a health practitioner. But, the trademark petition needs to move forward. My biggest concern is that if Shire City Herbals is allowed to ‘own’ the name of a product that they neither created nor named, it sets a dangerous precedent. Certainly, there is a direct threat to the traditions of herbalists, which is why a grassroots movement has sprung up fight for this product. But, what about other the names of other legacy products and the broader implications? Could a chef petition to trademark a popular food product like ‘chicken noodle soup’ or ‘BBQ chicken pizza’ or an architect trademark the ‘hip roof’ and then try to halt commercial sales of long standing, existing products?
Mary Blue echoed Telkes’ resolve, “We knew when we chose to represent the herbal community in the cancellation proceedings that this would be a possibility. However, the importance of protecting generic traditional terms outweighed the threat of a lawsuit from Shire City Herbals. We have gotten the evidence we need from the Free Fire Cider movement to win this, and we will continue to move forward in the cancelation efforts.”
Katheryn Langelier of Herbal Revolution Farm and Apothecary, also surprised by the suit, changed the name of her herbal tonic Fire Cider no. 9 to Fire Tonic No. 9 in spring of 2014 after being contacted by a representative of Shire City Herbals. “I changed my product name but I have stood behind the petition to revoke the Fire Cider trademark. I’ve been making Fire Cider since the 1990s, but now myself and many other small business owners are no longer able to use the term or sell our version. This trademark has had a direct and negative impact on small herbal businesses who are trying to make a living doing what they love, which is to work with plants.”
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
DONATE to the Fire Cider 3 Legal Defense Fund
Freeing fire cider is no longer going to be free. There are multiple costs associated with this effort, including legal fees, website hosting, travel and consultant fees. This lawsuit pushes the Fire Cider 3 legal fees up to $30-$50,000. These herbalists have their businesses at risk to protect our herbal traditions, and they working overtime on their defense, collecting evidence to prove that Fire Cider is generic, all while trying to run small herbal companies!! They need our support. Please consider donating to the Fire Cider 3 legal defense fund.
SHARE this story
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- Share it on your blog (and then drop us a line and let us know!)
- Contact your media connections and share the story. The more press coverage we can get, the better!
- Tell your friends to sign the petition – there are almost 10,000 signatures at change.org !
CONTACT Shire City Herbals and tell them your thoughts on the issue:
Use your own words and stick to the facts. Check out the free fire cider FAQ page to be fully informed of Trademark not Traditions stance, then form your own opinion and contact them if you feel that this is an important matter. Traditions not Trademarks is demanding that Shire City Herbals drop the lawsuit on the Fire Cider 3, and revoke the Fire Cider trademark.
SUPPORT the Boycott
Contact your local stores that carry Shire City Herbals Fire Cider. Their label has a pirate on it, which is very fitting. They are pirating herbal traditions!! Find out more about the boycott on our site.
SUPPORT small local herbal companies!
Buy Fire Cider from a local producer. If it has a pirate on the label, it is trademarked!!
SEND IN YOUR STORIES
Do you have a story about how you first learned about Fire Cider and how you began making it? Did your experience help others? Do you sell it? Send it in a written or video form and we may add you to the site. You can reach us using our contact form or directly via email.
ABOUT THE HERBALISTS BEING SUED
Nicole Telkes is a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild. After a decade of botanical studies and community organizing, she founded The Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine in Austin Texas. Since 2003, the school has provided on site learning in both in and around Austin focusing on bioregionalism and community herbalism. The Wildflower School is one of the most established, and in depth holistic herbal training programs in Texas and the Deep South, serving over 300 students a year. They are part of the United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuary Network, participating in permaculture and sustainable herb projects with students, and clients. Nicole has been a Practicing Herbalist for 17 years. Nicole is a founding member of Traditions not Trademarks.
Mary Blue founded Farmacy Herbs in 2006, which is located in Providence, Rhode Island. Mary has been a practicing herbalist and farmer for 15 years. She was awarded The Northeast Herbal Association Community Herbalist Award in 2008 for her dedication and commitment to the herbal community (northeastherbal.org), and numerous other local awards for community work. She has been featured in Bust magazine, the Providence Journal, Providence Business News, on local TV shows and in numerous other local publications. Mary offers free herbal/ nutritional and hospice support for cancer patients, and offers free herbs, classes and consultations to the homeless and recovery community in Providence, RI. She represented American herbalists when she spoke at the United Nations Council on Women in 2012 and at the USDA Women in Agriculture conference in 2013. She is a founding member of the following community groups: Herbal Aide, The Northeast Community Herbalist Convergence, Providence Recycle a Bike and Traditions not Trademarks.
Katheryn Langelier founded Herbal Revolution Farm and Apothecary in 2009 and is located in Union, Maine. Her commercial products include a variety of herbal tonics, elixirs and tea blends. Her workspace features gardens and fields where she organically grows medicinal plants and wild gathers from around the beautiful state of Maine. Katheryn has been learning about plant medicine for more than 20 years, gaining much of her early knowledge from farmer’s she apprenticed for. She has worked with kids and adults in wilderness and farm settings, sharing knowledge about wild edibles, medicinals and sustainable gardening. Herbal Revolution has received multiple awards including: “Best Overall Herbal Product and Product Line” from the American Herbalist Guild and three different awards for the Elderberry Plus Maine Mushroom and Roots Elixir.