Sandy man leads Grange trademark fight
The farmer group is battling to protect use of the term "grange"
Thursday, February 19, 2009 DANA TIMS The Oregonian Staff
The National Grange took on railroad barons in the 1870s, Willamette River locks owners in the early 1900s, the federal government in the 1950s. It has always come out on top. Now, with Sandy resident Ed Luttrell leading the charge, it appears that the 141-year-old farmers association will again emerge victorious, this time in what had been shaping up as a costly standoff with the world's largest meat processor.
Arkansas-based Tyson Foods outraged Grangers across the country last year by filing a trademark application to start selling a "grange and grassland" line of chicken, pork and beef. "This was a blatant attempt to take the good will we've built up for their own profit," Luttrell said. "They were trying to hijack our name."
A year into the fight, Tyson abruptly proposed withdrawing its application this month, just as Luttrell planned to crank up an aggressive public-awareness campaign, culminating with a series of events in Tyson's hometown of Springdale, Ark.
All this from a soft-spoken 48-year-old who had planned to spend his time as National Grange master traveling the country cultivating new Grange leaders and helping revitalize the organization.
"I wasn't personally expecting to encounter any kinds of fights," said Luttrell, only the second person west of Nebraska to win election as National Grange master. "But fights are nothing new for us. That's why I found it so hard to believe that Tyson thought we would just back down."
Luttrell's habit of standing up for his beliefs, he said, dates to his earliest experiences with the Grange. Between going to school and helping with chores around his parents' small farm near Hillsboro, he first applied for membership at age 131/2 -- the earliest possible age under Grange bylaws.
"I remember sitting at my first meeting and realizing that if I had the gumption to stand up and speak my mind, these adults would all listen to me," he said. "That thought was very, very empowering, and it's what hooked me into this organization."
At one point during the struggle with Tyson, Luttrell said, an executive told him the company was willing to spend huge amounts of money to gain commercial use of the term "grange."
Luttrell was alarmed.
Had Tyson acquired legal rights to use the word, Luttrell said, the company could have turned around and sued any of the 2,700 local Granges around the country for advertising an upcoming "Grange barbecue" or "Grange fundraiser."
"What they were acting like was an 800-pound chicken with an attitude," Luttrell said.
Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson disagreed, saying the company filed its trademark application under the assumption that consumers would not confuse its new line of meat products with anything connected to the National Grange.
Ed Luttrell, grandson of Oregon dairy farmers and current leader of the National Grange, says the 141-year-old association doesn't back away from a fight, including one with a huge meat processor.
The Grange - Quick Facts:
History: Founded in 1867 by Oliver Hudson Kelley as the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, the National Grange, to preserve and support farming. The Grange helped establish the Interstate Commerce Commission, rural free mail delivery, progressive taxation and community farming.
Current membership: About 250,000
Ed Luttrell, National Grange master: Grandfather ran a dairy at Scholls near Hillsboro, later operated by Luttrell's parents. The land, under new ownership, is now in wine grapes. Luttrell and his wife, Celia, live in Sandy. They have three children, Ben, Jacob and Charlotte. Quote: "I had great grandparents and parents who taught me there are things in life that are far more important than money. You stand up for what's right, and you fight what's wrong."
"We chose the word 'grange' because it is defined as 'a farm with a farmhouse and buildings nearby,' which is the kind of setting where much of the livestock we process are raised," Mickelson wrote in an e-mail sent Feb. 9. "We respectfully disagree and are defending our position."
Two days later, Luttrell said, Tyson reversed that position and offered to negotiate withdrawal of the trademark application. Tyson officials did not respond to questions about the company's apparent change of heart.
Luttrell's newfound expertise in trademark law isn't likely to go unused, however. He is seeing an uptick in trademark applications from businesses wanting to use the term "grange."
"From subdivisions to restaurants to entire planned communities, we're seeing a real upswing in people trying to use our name," he said. "It's an issue that is clearly not going away."
Grange lawyers are already drawing up cease-and-desist letters to be mailed this week to a newly established Grange Restaurant in Sacramento, Luttrell said. And though the outcome may be months away, he said the Grange, as it's done since its founding in 1867, expects to win.
Dana Tims: 503-294-5918; email@example.com