Union herbalist wins long-awaited trademark suit in preserving the generic term ‘Fire Cider’

Tue, 11/05/2019 - 7:15pm


    UNION—It’s been five, long years for Union herbalist Katheryn Langelier, owner of Herbal Revolution, contending with a lawsuit filed against her and two other herbalists for their use of the term ‘fire cider’ as it described their apple cider vinegar products.

    As of Oct. 2019, that fight is over. In a 40-page ruling, Judge Mark G. Mastroianni of the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, declared that the term fire cider is generic and cannot be trademarked.

    Langelier had been selling her product Fire Cider No. 9 for years when she learned that Massachusetts-based herbal company Shire City Herbals, had trademarked the term in 2014, and was putting legal pressure on small businesses around the country to cease using that term.

    The term fire cider is widely accredited to herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, who initially created the recipe in the late 1970s, a spicy, apple cider vinegar that includes hot peppers, horseradish, onion, and garlic. Gladstar never trademarked the term; instead, freely encouraged other herbalists to use her recipe, and use the term as well in the marketing of the product.

    As a result of a petition and boycott against Shire City Herbals, codefendants Nicole Telkes of Austin, Texas, and Mary Blue, of Providence, Rhode Island, were the other herbalists named in the $100,000 lawsuit.

    Langelier was forced to change the label to her product, naming it Fire Tonic in 2014 after receiving a cease and desist letter from Shire City Herbals.

    With the judgment that has now cleared them, the three herbalists set a legal precedent. This means no corporation can trademark a generic herbalist term. The trio are tying up loose ends with the USPTO to finish cancellation on the mark.  

    “We look at this as a win for the herbal community.” said Langelier. “Our next goal is to create an herbal dictionary, so that when somebody goes to trademark a generic term, the United StatesTrademark Office has a reference to refer to,” she said.

    Langelier, Telkes and Blue stood together with Gladstar throughout the entire lawsuit. At the trial, each woman took the stand and explained to the judge exactly what the term ‘fire cider’ was and why it should have never been trademarked in the first place.

    “It weighed on me every single day,” said Langelier.

    The Portland law firm Verrill Dana represented the ‘Fire Cider 3’ pro bono.

    “None of us had any money to fight this; we were all small companies, so we are indebted to our lawyers for working with us the whole way on this,” said Langelier.

    As it turns out, Langelier and Blue were scheduled to speak at a conference in Maryland and to accept a Community Award from the American Herbalist Guild for the fire cider movement in September. Two weeks before the conference, the defendants learned of the judgment in their favor and Langelier and Blue were able to announce the verdict in front of more than 500 herbalists.

    “Up until that moment, I’d known the verdict, but it didn’t feel like the weight was off my shoulders yet,” said Langelier. “Once we made that announcement at the conference, it felt like a huge release.”

    “People were overwhelmed with joy, shouting, responding in tears,” she said. “Even though they weren’t being sued, they’d felt the weight of what this was doing to our community.”

    As far as next steps, Langelier is busy trying to run her business, having secured a new 4,000 sf production and shipping facility in Union. Asked whether she is going to return to rename her herbal concoction Fire Cider once more, she said, “Absolutely, we have a new look that will be coming out soon." 

    To follow this ongoing story visit: https://freefirecider.com/

    Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com