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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Bob’s Red Mill Sues Gluten Intolerance Group Over Dueling Gluten-Free Symbols

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      A Gluten-Free label spat turns legal, as Bob sues Gluten Intolerance Group of North America before they can sue Bob’s for potential copyright infringement.


    Caption: Here you can see the use of "GF" in both marks.

    Celiac.com 06/08/2018 - A spat over gluten-free symbols turned legal recently, when Bob’s Red Mill filed a lawsuit against the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America in U.S. district court in Portland. Bob’s Red Mill is looking to continue using their current gluten-free logo without seeking permission from, or paying money to, the Gluten Intolerance Group (G.I.G.), which verifies and certifies gluten-free products through its Gluten-Free Certification Organization program. To date, the program has certified more than 30,000 products in 29 different countries.

    For its gluten-free labeling, Bob’s Red Mill currently uses a gluten-free circle symbol with “gluten-free” in larger letters in the middle. Above and below the gluten-free, in smaller font are the words “GLUTEN” and “FREE,” respectively. For their certification label, The Gluten Intolerance Group uses a similar “gluten-free” in a circle, with the words “Certified” and “Gluten-Free” in smaller letters above and below the circle, respectively.

    Bob’s Red Mill said in court documents that on May 17 it received a cease and desist e-mail from the G.I.G. The e-mail stated that G.I.G. has used their mark consistently in commerce since 2005, and demanded that Bob’s cease using their logo, saying it was similar to the G.I.G.’s logo and could confuse consumers into thinking the Group had certified the Bob’s Red Mill products, which it had not. The Food and Drug Administration’s says that a product labeled gluten-free must have less than 20 parts per million, and Bob’s Red Mill says they adhere to that standard.

    In court document, Bob’s said that “complying with G.I.G.’s demand would require a significant redesign and marketing process,” and that the “potential damages exceed $75,000.” The suit by Bob’s Red Mill claims that G.I.G. abandoned its application to register its gluten-free mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Feb. 13 of this year, and asks the court to declare that G.I.G.s gluten-free mark is unenforceable and merely descriptive.

    Basically, Bob’s seems to be launching a preemptive lawsuit to put G.I.G. on its heels before G.I.G has the chance to sue Bob’s. Stay tuned to see if this suit actually makes it to a trial, or if cooler heads prevail and the two sides work something out.

    The Gluten Intolerance Group was founded in 1974, and offers consumer support, advocacy and education to the gluten-free community. Bob’s Red Mill was founded in 1978, is a global provider of gluten-free milled grain products, and certified-organic milled grain products.

    Disclosure: Bob's Red Mill and G.I.G. have been sponsors of Celiac.com.


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    This is sad news and the last thing those needing to avoid gluten in their diets need.  Very sad that these two trusted leaders in the gluten free world can’t work things out without taking it to court.

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    I don't understand the conflict and am wondering if BRM is on the attack to avoid people finding out their products are NOTcertified. BR does a good job testing their products themselves, but when it comes to oats- especially, they use a mechanical sorter like so many other companies and declare their products are below 20 ppm on a consistent basis. That maybe good enough for those who are NCGS, but not enough for sensitive celiacs. Personally I have a dozen of their products in my pantry and freezer and have no problem. That said, when GIG puts their seal of approval products, even sensitive celiacs can be rest assured the inspection and testing procedures are top-notch. That seal has been in use and trusted long before BRM newer seal so, seriously, who is infringing on whom in this silly "war". Users know and trust that GIG symbol and those who purchase BRM products usually know exactly what they are getting.

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    Guest gluten-free Mom

    Posted

    Bob's Red Mill does not use the word certified, so there is a difference.  What is important is that people recognize what is gluten free. It is a shame that there has to be a lawsuit. I understand Bob's Red Mill protecting themselves; but, so tired of hearing about people/companies having to go to court to settle issues. Is the cost of this passed onto the consumers?

     

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    Wow.  gluten-free with a circle around it.  So confusing!  (eyeroll)  It is indeed ridiculous.  Sad that BRM has to sue to be able to use gluten-free in a circle!

     

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    I find this ironic, I won't touch Bob's Red Mill products because they make me really sick. It's not gluten free, just lacking enough gluten to fall below the parts per million quota to label their products gluten free. This of course doesn't take into account when they screw up and ship with gluten contamination. 

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    As a sensitive Celiac, I use and appreciate Bob's Red Mill products, but I've never even noticed the red-circled gluten-free. I always look for the full "gluten-free" banner across the top of the label since our market stocks all the BRM products together and they are difficult to distinguish.I always recognize and trust the "certified gluten-free" label. It is a shame there is infighting when proponents of this market need to stick together.

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    I am also concerned that BRM is trying to pass itself off as certified.  With all we have read about product issues in other areas, or when original owners retire or sell out, there goes the quality unless there is 3rd party accountability.

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    The color is different, the font is different, the word "certified" is used by GIG but not by BRM. This smacks of a legal shakedown by GIG, sort of like McDonalds several years ago suing a hotel chain that called itself McSleep (McDonalds seemed to claim that it owned the prefix Mc). "Gluten free" is a descriptive term and cannot be copyrighted, nor can "gluten-free," and any trademark would extend only to something that is confusingly similar in format. But there are only so many ways one can present a gluten free claim, and BRM isn't claiming certification, which is a substantial difference. I don't think GIG has a legal leg to stand on, but the lawyers can spend a lot of money arguing, which doesn't help anyone in the gluten-free community; we'll end up paying with even higher food costs.

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    It would be nice to have everyone on the same page or should I say the same label.  To go into a store and shop can be very time consuming, to have a universal logo by ALL companies would be advantageous to those who must be gluten free.  I purchase BRM products and find the company accommodating to those with celiac.  I hope they can come to an amiable solution for consumer and producer.  One must remember the purpose of Gluten Free Labeling, a guarantee that the food we purchase is safe, period.  Stop fighting and work together!!!

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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