If you Google the words "vegan butcher," the top result is for the Herbivorous Butcher, an all-vegan market in Minneapolis that serves up a ridiculously wide range of meat-free "meats" and dairy-free cheeses. Brother-and-sister duo Aubry and Kale Walch opened the shop in January 2016 and, at the time, it was celebrated as the first-ever completely vegan butcher in the United States.
After years spent perfecting their recipes for everything from meatless chorizo to vegan camembert, selling them at farmer's markets and ultimately opening their brick-and-mortar shop, the Walches applied for trademarks on the business' name, as well as the terms "vegan butcher," "meat-free meats," "sister butcher," and "brother butcher." (Although those last two sound less like small businesses and more like the kind of programs that follow Forensic Files on HLN)
Anyway, four of those trademarks were approved, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) denied the "vegan butcher" one, on the grounds that it was "merely descriptive." According to the Star Tribune, the Walches shrugged it off and continued to use those two words on the shop's packaging and on the printed labels they put on their products.
After the Walches' trademark application was denied, Sweet Earth, the Nestlé-owned plant-based food manufacturer, filed its own paperwork with the USPTO and—put that shocked Pikachu face right here—its application for "The Vegan Butcher" was approved.
"For some reason it was denied for us, but not for them,” Aubry Walch told the Star Tribune. “There are a lot of vegan butcher shops across the United States. We’re all a part of the same team. We just don’t want a largest company in the world to come in and say we’re going to take 'The Vegan Butcher.' It felt suspicious that it was immediately OK for them, but not for us.”
The Walches have filed its opposition to… well, to all of it with Nestlé and the USPTO, and the case will be presented before an administrative panel of three judges. If a settlement cannot be reached, it could go to a trial. The Walches are fighting either for the right to use "vegan butcher" themselves, or for the phrase to remain un-trademarked in the public domain so that other (read: smaller) retailers can use it as well.
"If it’s merely descriptive for us, then it should be merely descriptive for [Nestlé], so they shouldn’t be given the exclusive right to use that mark,” Ken Kunkle, the attorney who is representing the Walches, told Twin Cities Business.
It's early days, but there are already estimates that the legal battle over the term could stretch into 2021. "[W]e won’t be intimidated by the imitators & we’re fighting back to keep what’s ours," the siblings recently posted on Instagram.
If you need the services of a vegan butcher, this potentially lopsided litigation just provides one of the many, many reasons why you should support your local vegan butcher instead of a trademark-swiping corporate behemoth. Up with the Herbivorous Butcher!