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How Could a Bundle of Garlic and a Few Onions Cause Such a Fuss?

Posted by Karen's Botanicals Blogger in Residence on

There has been an awful ruckus in my industry, and unless you are active in the herbalist community, or you read obscure web postings for little known health tonics, you might not know what is happening in the world of Fire Cider. In short, makers of Fire Cider are in a trademark war, and they have been for the last few years. It is hard to believe that anything so universally understood as a “wellness tonic for all,” would evolve into a bitter legal matter, but it has. In the herbalist community, this legal action has caused levels of stress and heartache usually unknown in this quiet corner of commerce.

This trademark lawsuit is the most significant controversy to shake the naturally peace-loving makers of herbal products. There are many makers of Fire Cider, of which we are one, and it has caused untold hardship. Karen's Botanicals has remained silent; however, there is a court date set for March 25, 2019, and feel it is time to express our thoughts on trademarks and small makers of herbal joys.

The fight is over a name, period. Nothing more than the words "Fire Cider," a term used for a couple of decades and generally used to denote a sweet, hot, spicy, biting at times, no two versions are the same concoction, which was first made popular by Rosemary Gladstar. She called it fire cider; we called it fire cider, and peace reigned in the Queendom of warm, healthy tonics.

There was a gentle-ladies agreement that the community affirmed what Fire Cider was without problem or harshness towards one another. Until a couple of years ago when a man formed corporation around the concept of fire cider and his company begin telling women who had made Fire Cider for decades that they must now stop. Women, such as myself, started getting letters coercing us to make a name change. Name changes did not seem to matter because the new name might contain the word, "Fire," this was not enough to satisfy the corporate lawyers. Many small makers have been threatened with litigation to remove Fire Cider from their shelves and rename their product something unrecognizable. How would the term Spicy Swamp Water ever equate with the name Fire Cider? No one will buy swamp water if they have used Fire Cider for the last twenty years.

Makers had to recall bottles from retailers, cut their prices, and in desperation, women have reverted to giving away their tried and true formulas to the general public. In short, women were forced into harming their lively hoods to prevent the term geriatric term, “fire-cider,” from being, “owned” by a corporate entity.

There is genuine sadness in what has happened. A small group of women-owned businesses has been tied up in a legal fight for years to prevent the term "fire cider," from being taken over by a corporation. Many of these women have invested significant sums and many years to develop their fire cider. However, this new company is not involved in the herbalist community, yet it is dictating that they alone are entitled to use the term fire cider. This business model seems rather harsh, and the decision to force other makers out of business through trademark law is morally questionable and goes totally beyond the pale.

Additionally, makers of fire cider, like myself, were forcibly told that we could no longer sell our product to wider audiences, such as eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Walmart, Jet. Fire Cider made by small woman-owned businesses is expelled from participating in commerce in these venues. Except, of course, for the corporation doing all Cease and Desist letter sending, and thus limiting us small makers to an ever smaller and more fragmented market for our products.

There is ironic humor in this story. You see, every one of us who make fire cider would have joyfully asked this man to come alongside us as an equal maker. We would have encouraged him to do his own thing and make his version of this spicy-sweet tonic. In other words, we would have welcomed this man into the fold. However, the corporate response to our sense of community is to paper herbalist with Cease and Desist orders from attorneys.

The action of one corporation has brought fire cider makers across America into Federal Trademark Court. These are the same makers who would have encouraged him. The very women who, being driven out of business, are the very same who would have shared our formulas with him. Is this merely differences between men and woman; some men fight, most women cooperate? There appears the current norm is a lack of ethical judgment or moral compass; so did this company act from callous disregard for others rights to do business? Perhaps, this is merely the unfortunate case of someone forgetting to perform the needed due diligence and find themselves in over their head?

Whatever the reasoning for this legal action it cannot be worth the ensuing chaos, cost, and pain it has caused small business women across the country who make their living in the herbalist community. The logic behind all of this litigation escapes me.

Understandably, it is hard for a corporation to change its mind after making a decision; however difficult, it is not impossible to make a better decision and change direction, and end-all of this fuss.

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