“Urban Homesteading” an off-topic rant on intellectual property rights

I am a rather big opponent to intellectual property rights. I believe they are abused far more than they are useful. In most cases inventors do not receive any benefit.  And often such IP rights are merely used as legal hammers to club the competition without merit.

In recent years I’ve grown a strong interest in permaculture, homesteading and gardening.  A family by the name of Dervaes gained a fair amount of respect for their accomplishments in this field.  I first heard about them from Jack Spirko’s The Survival Podcast (superb podcast on prepping, gardening, & bettering your life). Recently, they decided to trademark the term “Urban Homesteading” and began to send out cease and desist letters to sites that utilized the term.


I am disgusted by such practices. And believe such is a fraudulent use of IP rights. Very much akin to Apple’s attempt to sue the non-profit in NYC that was using an “apple” in their logo. Seeking to have exclusive rights to an apple in a corporate logo. Thankfully, Apple backed off – but that was only after NYC itself threatened to get involved and seek an invalidation of Apple’s trademark, being the original “big apple” and all.

What I usually find in such cases is that the claimed owner is seldom the originator of the term. The term usually existed prior, though often used in a slightly different context.

A quick use of Google turned up this article by the National Housing Institute from 1994, referencing the term “Urban Homesteading”.


Now their use is somewhat different from the Dervaes, being a bit closer to the original concept of homesteading. It relates to a practice, and later an encouraged program, where community members in rundown urban neighborhoods started to claim, use, and beautify the dilapidated areas around them.  Often such action involved planting community gardens and growing produce for the surrounding community. (In fact, I believe another famous community gardener by the name of Mel Bartholomew – author of the Square Foot Gardening Method – was involved in such programs in the 70’s.)

The Devaes have latched onto a single subset of the term “urban homesteading”, namely the gardening aspect. Now they have taken that particular element to quite the extreme of efficiency and success. But does that entitle them to now own the term “urban homesteading” and to begin sending out cease and desist notices?  I don’t think so…

In fact, a quick look at Dictionary.com’s definition of “homesteading” even includes the word “urban” in the 2nd definition.   http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/homesteading

All this leads me to believe that the Devaes trademark claim is both dubious and doubtful, and assuredly motivated by nothing more than greed.

The sad thing is that I had planned on buying their video and learning from it, and sharing it with friends.  Now they’ve completely lost my business. And I believe earned a fair dose of ill-will from the community as a whole. The irony, is that the actions of the Devaes family parallel those of a much larger agricultural entity – Mosanto.

If Devaes is interested in ever earning my business, than they will need to cease the legal threats,  post a public apology, and make a gesture of goodwill toward the community.


“We do this because we believe in giving freely to others, a value upon which strong, healthy communities are built.” – Clearly the Dervaes are not living up to the claim on their website.

“Whatever you may gain by reading about our journey, please remember to “pay it forward” to others” – How if you can’t even utilize what is pretty much the common term for the lifestyle?




Granted in their defense they state that there is no “cease and desist” phrase in their letter. The following comes from the Dervaes website and can be found at this location (but is included in case the letter is removed by the Dervaes Institute.

Oh, I found the “cease and desist”, it’s right here “We are generally able to resolve any such uses without involving our legal counsel. This would require that you update your websites”


Please find the “cease & desist”  phrase in this normal, professional and informative letter.   It’s a false, made up claim that people are jumping over themselves to make us look bad.

Jules Dervaes, Presiding Officer
631 Cypress Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91103
(626) 795-8400

To Whom It May Concern:

This notice is to inform you of important matters regarding the published works and/or brand names of Jules Dervaes and Dervaes Institute. We are extremely supportive of members of our online communities; fans of our websites, writings and photographs; and others who help to spread information regarding sustainable living. However, we must also guard against the unauthorized use or exploitation of our intellectual property for commercial gain. From the beginning, our work published online and in other media has been copyrighted and trademarked. We have now secured registered trademarks for certain unique names and images. By protecting our intellectual property we are better able to ensure that our work is presented accurately and contributes to our sustainable living projects and educational initiatives.

As you may know, the Dervaes family has been practicing sustainable living in Pasadena, Calif., since 1985. Our work has been documented and shared online at http://www.urbanhomestead.org and other websites since 2001, receiving national and international media attention. Additionally, we produced an award-winning short documentary film about our project, called Homegrown Revolution, which has been featured at film festivals around the world and on Oprah’s 2009 Earth Day television special. Over the last 25 years, our family has created a wealth of intellectual property in the field of sustainable living. Through the Dervaes Institute, we have been committed to freely educating others about the practices and benefits of self-sufficiency.

We realize that your use of Dervaes published words and/or trademarks may have been inadvertent. We are generally able to resolve any such uses without involving our legal counsel. This would require that you update your websites and articles to properly cite our works. For example, the writings of Jules Dervaes about sustainable living are original protected works in which Dervaes owns exclusive rights. Content from the Dervaes websites, including text and photographs, are also protected works.

When using Dervaes materials, the proper way to go about it is as follows:

  • Only use a small sample of our work in any single instance;
  • Copy the portion used in its entirety – do not paraphrase or extract portions of images or paragraphs;
  • Make it clear – by using quotation marks or different font size or color – that the Dervaes materials referenced are from another source;
  • Include a prominent link or reference to the original source of the content used on a Dervaes website.

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.

When using a phrase listed above to refer to the work of the Dervaes Institute, proper trademark usage should include the proper trademark notice [®], use the protected phrase in all capital letters, and note in close proximity that the term is a protected trademark of Dervaes Institute.

Thank you in advance for respecting our legally protected intellectual property rights. If you have been supportive of our ten-year online work in the past, we appreciate very much your continued support.

If you have any questions regarding the use of Dervaes materials or trademarks, please contact us at (626) 795-8400. We would be glad to provide you with more details.


Jules Dervaes
Dervaes Institute



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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Farmcurious has a great article on the topic

    Note they tracked a use of the term “urban homesteader” in Mother Earth magazine from 1980

  2. Thanks for posting a great article. I’m hoping they back down after suffering all the community backlash. This is absurdity.

  3. “I am a rather big opponent to intellectual property rights.” So you’d have no problem if I downloaded everything you’ve written on your blog, claimed it was mine, turned it into a book, and got rich selling it without even mentioning you, let alone giving you anything for it?

    It’s a pretty big leap from acknowledging that there are some issues with the current state of IP law and calling out people who use it for ill like you’re doing here (which I agree with) and saying that intellectual property as a whole is a bad thing.

  4. @Jeff –

    A if you wanted to use for your personal use, study, review. Or for education, non-profit use. I’d have no issue.

    If you copied word for word, that would be plagiarism.

    I am not opposed to support artists, authors or inventors. But that is not how our patent/IP systems work today.

    In fact, many inventors are let go from companies as soon as their ideas are implemented. Many inventors who have ideas outside of the company have them co-opted by the companies they work for, even if totally unrelated.

    A huge number, in fact, the majority, of patents are given for ideas that have a) already existed b) are blatantly obvious or c) evolutionary step.

    Like online auctions. That was just the move of an age old concept to a different medium. It should not have been patentable.

    In regards to trademarks. Trademarks have their use, namely for protecting confusion between a very distinguished brand and an impersonating brand.

    They should never be allowed to railroad competition, nor be granted ownership of a basic and prior existing concept (ie: windows, apple, etc).

    And in this case, a trademark on a concept and term that has been around for nearly a century prior is just ludicrous.

    You claim “it’s a big leap”…

    I do not, and I’ll give you my reasons why. A book or a novel is a work, and I believe in paying an author/artist/etc for their labor. Especially creative labor.

    But no one should ever own an idea. If we allowed for that, then mankind would still be walking around in bare feet. No one could make shoes, let alone wheels and automobiles.

    We enacted a mutually beneficial system, to encourage arts and innovations, the other side of the coin was recognizing that such ideas belong to mankind as a whole. That it is wrong to forbid another man from having the same idea just because one man thinks they had it first.

    You think that I am taking a big leap. The system has problems but we shouldn’t just throw it all out.

    Where as I feel those problems are such an impediment to progress, and so little has been done to remedy them. In fact, most of the action (and most the money) have been focused on breaking them further to the benefit of a small select few. So I am of the opinion, until we fix the problems and restore a fair balance and sanity to the system. That the system should in fact be halted, otherwise it will continue to impede mankind’s progress.

  5. So, you two basically agree ;). If you don’t like the practice, complain about the patent and trademark office that issues many trademarks and payents that should not, in my humble opinion, get approved.

  6. Trust me Counsel,

    I complain to the patent office, Congress, et al. I sound the brass. But I’m not there with millions of $$$ for their campaign elections, so they do little to listen to me.

  7. We still can do something like file a Petition to Cancel “urban homesteading” trademark. See what we do about it onwww.denverurbahomesteading.org

  8. Motion for Summary Judgment to cancel trademark URBAN HOMESTEADING is filed October 6, 2012 – copy is available on our website http://www.denverurbanhomesteading.org/ or USPTO website.

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