Bob’s Red Mill Files Counter Gluten-Free Lawsuit

Bob's Red MillBob’s Red Mill has filed a lawsuit against the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America to continue using a “gluten-free” logo without paying for certification.

  • Mateusz Perkowski, Capital Press 1

A well-known Oregon flour mill wants a federal judge to declare it can use a gluten-free label without paying a nonprofit group for certification.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains to which some people have an intolerance that causes digestive problems.

Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods of Milwaukie, Ore., has filed a lawsuit claiming the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America asserted trademark rights in a “GF” gluten-free symbol that’s similar to a logo used by the company.

The nonprofit sent a letter to Bob’s Red Mill alleging consumers may be “confused into thinking GIG has certified your product as satisfying its gluten-free standards, even though GIG has not,” the complaint said.

Bob’s Red Mill should either stop using the logo or become certified by the nonprofit, the letter said.

The lawsuit claims it’s “somewhat puzzling” that GIG has taken this position because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office considers the GF symbol as “merely descriptive,” which means the nonprofit “has no right to exclusive use of that mark.”

More than 100 gluten-free products are sold by Bob’s Red Mill, which has “built a separate facility with specialized machinery” for such products and targeted consumers seeking to avoid gluten for three decades, the complaint said.

While there is no federal standard for “gluten-free,” the company only uses such labels for products containing fewer than 19 parts per million of the substance, according to the lawsuit.

Bob’s Red Mill is seeking a “declaratory judgment” that it’s not required to pay for certification or cease using the GF logo, which would “require the withholding from store shelves of millions of dollars’ worth of product,” the complaint said. “At a minimum, complying with GIG’s demand would require a significant redesign and marketing process.”

The company has also asked the judge to declare the GF trademark unenforceable and to enter an injunction prohibiting GIG from claiming that others may not use a similar symbol.

Capital Press was unable to reach Sarah Bottorf, the nonprofit’s executive director who sent the letter, for comment.

Gluten Intolerance Group of North America took in about $3 million, most of it derived from “program service revenue,” during 2016, the most recent year for which its tax information is available.

In 2017, the nonprofit filed a lawsuit over the GF trademark against organizations affiliated with Jamie Oliver, a famous chef, which was dismissed earlier this year subject to an undisclosed agreement.