Monsanto in Snit Over Use of
The Agribusiness Examiner i.420, 30aug2005
Editor's note: Tom Philpott a writer and farmer in the Appalachians of North Carolina. His farm/sustainable-ag non-profit is called Maverick Farms http://www.maverickfarms.org and his Web log can be found in his Bitter Greens Journal http://www.bittergreensgazette.blogspot.com
Yesterday the farming project I work for, Maverick Farms, received the following extraordinary e-mail. I don't have time to respond now, as we're scrambling to put on our monthly farm dinner. Given Monsanto's record of suing farmers, I suppose I should stifle guffaws and take it seriously. For now, though, I'll delight in having tweaked a transnational corporation valued in the marketplace at a cool $17 billion. Here's the letter. I will respond when I get a chance. (Readers should also note that I'm putting the finishing touches on a post about the current oil crunch.)
Dear Mr. Philpott,
I am the trademark and copyright attorney for Monsanto Company, the owner of the Roundup ReadyŽ trademark. The attached link is to the Bitter Greens Journal which features the name "Roundup, ready" as the title of one of its features. Roundup ReadyŽ is a well known trademark which is registered by Monsanto not only in the United States, but in many countries throughout the word [sic]. As you have pointed out in the column, Roundup ReadyŽ is famous in the agricultural industry.
While you have stated in your column that you chose the name "Roundup, ready" in honor of Monsanto's famed line of seeds, we must object to this use and request that you change the name for the following reasons:
1) You are using our trademark without our consent. This use of the term could cause your readers to think that your journal is in some way sponsored by Monsanto or that Monsanto supports the positions set out in your journal.
2) You are using our trademark in an incorrect manner (with a comma and in a way that genericizes the mark). This weakens our trademark rights.
I would appreciate your confirmation that you will change the name of this column and cease using "Roundup, ready" or any form of our trademark as the name of a feature or in an incorrect manner in your journal. We appreciate your cooperation in this matter.
Very truly yours,
Assistant General Counsel - Trademarks
BITTER GREENS RESPONDS TO MONSANTO
Monday, August 29, 2005
As I reported Friday, Monsanto contacted me to "request" that I cease using the headline "Roundup, ready," a title I use for an occasional feature that rounds up food-politics news. Here is my response:
Dear Ms. Bunning-Stevens,
Although it's comical for a corporation with upwards of $5 billion in annual revenue to harass an obscure blogger who helps run a 2.5-acre farm, the tone of your letter is earnest; so I will reply earnestly.
Your arguments seem specious to me, and I therefore I must refuse to cease using "Roundup, ready" as the title for an occasional feature on my Web log.
You write that "[t]his use of the term could cause your readers to think that your journal is in some way sponsored by Monsanto or that Monsanto supports the positions set out in your journal." Yet my journal clearly presents itself as a "running critique of industrial agriculture," and from its first post on has made no secret of its distaste for Monsanto and its particular style of industrial agriculture.
I doubt you will be able to dig up a single reader who, after perusing a "Roundup, ready" post, will think to himself, "Now this fellow must be on the Monsanto dole!"
To further clarify my position on Monsanto, and to underline my institutional, financial, and ideological independence from it, I'm considering placing a new feature along the left-hand side of my blog. Titled "Bitter Greens on Monsanto," it would be a compilation of clickable headlines to the 15 or so posts that have mentioned your company. Would that go some way toward distancing our two entities?
Nor am I persuaded by the claim that my use of a comma in "Roundup, ready" somehow "weakens [Monsanto's] trademark rights." If I were in the business of genetically altering seeds so that they could withstand copious applications of herbicides, and I were marketing my product under the brand "Roundup, ready," cheekily trying to leverage Monsanto's marketing might and hoping the comma would protect me from copyright troubles, I would certainly tremble in fear on being contacted by a Monsanto attorney. And I would immediately cease and desist that dubious practice.
However, I am selling nothing. I am a polemicist employing (in the case of "Roundup, ready") satire to advance the cause of locally based, organic agriculture. If I'm able with my writing to stop a farmer from buying your product, then it will be due to the force of my arguments, not to any confusion regarding your trademark.
With all due respect, it seems to me that rather than protect your trademark from any serious threat, what you're really trying to do is intimidate a political opponent into ceasing what is surely Constitutionally protected speech. And so, as I stated above, I must decline your request. And I will redouble my efforts to study and write about the practices of your company.