The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America has sued a Maine organic dairy over claims the business was using the group’s kosher symbol without proper authorization. The union wants the court to force the dairy to cease using the symbol and is seeking monetary damages.
According to a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, the Orthodox Union claims Maine’s Own Organic Milk Co. — commonly known as MOOMilk — infringed on its trademark, which is a letter “u” in a circle, that signifies a food has been certified as kosher by the group.
On Monday, MOOMilk Executive Director William Eldridge said he hoped to resolve the issue with the union out of court.
“Hopefully we can come to an agreement that satisfies the Orthodox Union. We definitely have the symbol on there without having paid our annual fees — that’s as simple and cut and dried as I can make it,” said Eldridge.
MOOMilk was founded in August 2009 after several small, family organic dairy farms in Maine had their milk supply contracts canceled by a national organic milk processor. The Augusta-based company began operations in October 2009. The dairy takes in milk from farms in Aroostook and Washington counties and processes it at Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook. It is then distributed in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
The dairy has had cash flow problems in the past, which, according to the lawsuit, came to bear in the trademark issue. However, last September, MOOMilk secured a round of financing that included $750,000 of private investment capital coupled with $140,000 in loans from the Finance Authority of Maine and the Sunrise County Economic Council.
The company is on stable footing now, said Eldridge.
“If we can put our stupid mistakes behind us, with the forbearance of the Orthodox Union, we can become a profitable company,” he said.
According to the lawsuit, the Orthodox Union provides kosher product certifications. Kosher, the suit noted, means “fit or proper” in Hebrew, meaning the food with the symbol has been prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary laws.
The union, the lawsuit said, is the sole owner of the kosher certification mark — that encircled “u.”
In June 2010, the Orthodox Union learned MOOMilk was using that mark without its knowledge or authorization, the suit said, so it sent an email to the dairy, noting that the use was infringing on a copyright.
The same day the email was sent, David Bright, one of the dairy’s founders and a member of its board of directors, emailed the Orthodox Union a reply, asking for information on using the trademark.