James Bertini Harvests a Win for Urban Homesteading

His quest has hit some rough patches, but it looks like all of James Bertini’s efforts are finally bearing fruit. Earlier this month, in a pre-trial ruling, a federal court in California canceled the trademark for “urban homesteading” that its owner — the Dervaes Institute of Pasadena, California, a self-described “religious society” — had used to disable a number of Facebook pages in 2011 by sending cease-and-desist letters claiming trademark infringement for the mere use of the words “urban homesteading,” since founder Jules Dervaes called himself a "minister of urban homesteading." 

One of those pages belonged to Bertini’s Denver Urban Homesteading, which has been fighting Dervaes ever since. And it wasn’t alone: Other members of the urban-homesteading community across the country united in protest, starting new Facebook pages and a petition on Change.org demanding cancellation of the trademark, since “urban homesteading” was now in common parlance — and common practice around the country, where gardeners were suddenly starting farms on empty patches of inner-city space.

Bertini, a retired general-practice attorney, went even further, asking the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the trademark. When that went nowhere, he took his case to federal court in Colorado, but after a year, the judge refused to consider the case for jurisdictional reasons. So in December 2014, Denver Urban Homesteading sued in California, where a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California finally canceled the Dervaes trademark because “urban homesteading” is now “generic.” In fact, the judge determined, the term "urban homesteading" was generic as early as the '70s.

It’s a victory, but it came at a price. “No small business should have to go through five years of litigation to cancel a trademark that shouldn’t exist,” Bertini says. “A small business cannot afford this burden.”

In fact, Bertini’s didn’t: His year-round farmers’ market at 200 Santa Fe Drive, which we named Best Urban Farmers' Market in the 2010 Best of Denver, closed earlier this year because of all the time required for litigation, he says. Fortunately, some of the produce and products featured at the Denver Urban Homesteading market have found other outlets.

And the fight isn’t over yet. Bertini is going to trial in December to obtain damages — but first he needs to find an attorney licensed in California. "I won the cake," he says. "I'd just like to get icing on the cake."

Read the full decision at denverurbanhomesteading.org.

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