Trademark Holder Sends Cease-And-Desist To Zazzle Over Products Using 3,000-Year-Old Greek Letter

from the once-again-removing-the-'intellectual'-from-'intellectual-property&# dept

Over the past few days, an IP battle has erupted at print-on-demand service Zazzle over a 3,000-year-old Greek letter. New York artist Paul Ingrisano was granted a trademark for the following symbol, apparently in reference to his initials.


This safely stashed in his pocket, he directed attorney Ronald Millet to order takedowns of infringing merchandise. Ingrisano’s cease-and-desist demanded that Zazzle not only remove any items including the pi symbol (with or without the full stop) but to provide a full accounting of what had been sold and cooperate on a full audit of pi-related merchandise sales. The letter warned that failing to do so would open up Zazzle to accusations of “willful infringement.”

The proper response — a tersely worded hahahawhat? letter — was nowhere to be found. Instead, Zazzle yanked a bunch of merchandise and told vendors/customers they were free to file counterclaims, but otherwise it wouldn’t be reinstating products. (Zazzle has since reversed course and has restored many of the removed items, while thanking its community for feedback, but never actually apologizing for the quick trigger takedowns.)

Ingrisano’s trademark, as ridiculous as it is, contains a period at the “end,” something most pi-related merchandise does not include. (People have also pointed out that his trademark appears to be a direct copy of Wikipedia’s pi image.) On top of that, the trademark covers a very narrow category of goods (albeit one that could be read expansively).

Athletic apparel, namely, shirts, pants, jackets, footwear, hats and caps, athletic uniforms

This narrow category would exclude many of the items taken down by Zazzle to comply with the C&D. His attorney’s letter doesn’t specify which sort of items are infringing and worse, makes a general claim over the pi symbol itself, rather than Ingrisano’s registered pi-and-full-stop.

It has been brought to our client’s attention that your business… has been using the mathematical symbol “pi,” referred to herein as the “pi trademark.”

That claim isn’t remotely true. The trademark registration actually says this:

Description of Mark: The mark consists of the pi mathematical symbol followed by a period.

This appears to be Ingrisano attempting to cash in on the work of others. With ridiculous trademark in hand (and a willing attorney in tow), he’s now attempting to enforce his trademark, starting with a whole lot of Zazzle users who aren’t even using the registered mark. His lawyer at least seems to understand that this legal action isn’t going to be warmly welcomed.

Attorney Millet defends the cease-and-desist letter. He says that to his knowledge none of the designs sold through Zazzle included the exact trademark π.—pi followed by a period—but some of them were confusingly similar to his client’s design.

“Some clearly have a pi sign and look similar enough that folks out there might confuse it with products that my client also sells,” he says. “I saw the back and forth on the blogs of some of the sellers on Zazzle expressing their disappointment. I can see that as an understandable reaction, from a personal standpoint.”

That’s great and all — an attorney with some intact humanity — but “confusingly similar” apparently means the pi symbol itself, at least in this context. When the only difference between a registered trademark and an ancient Greek letter is a period, everything is “confusingly similar.” And as for his claim that these products might be “confusing” for people seeking Ingrisano’s goods, it would help greatly if he could point to anything as evidence of his client’s market presence. (Zazzle customers have only been able to track down this single Etsy listing, which is decidedly not athletic apparel.)

Of course, Millet may not be the best person to be tasked with enforcing trademarks, seeing as he states the following (and in all-caps) in the C&D’s opening paragraph.

Accordingly, you are hereby directed to CEASE AND DESIST ALL COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT.

Yeah. That’s not even what’s going on here.

Kevin Poulsen at Wired asked Millet if Ingrisano had trademarked any other mathematical symbols.

“No,” he says. “None that I’m aware of at least.”

But he is seeking a trademark on this:


Currently published for opposition, it’s already run into a dispute from Reebok (which has a trademark on “I3”), which has resulted in the following exclusion being written into the super-long list of products Ingrisano is hoping to market with his co-opted texting symbology.

all of the foregoing excluding special-purpose basketball apparel, namely, basketball footwear, basketball headwear, basketball shoes, basketball jerseys, basketball uniforms, basketball warm-up suits, basketball pants, basketball bottoms and basketball tops

The US trademark office has entertained many, many opportunists, and Ingrisano’s trademarked “pi.” is no exception. That an attorney might pursue baseless claims on behalf of someone like Ingrisano isn’t surprising either, but that says at least as much about Millet as it does for the Brooklyn artist who has yet to enter the same market he’s seeking to exclude others from.

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Companies: zazzle

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Comments on “Trademark Holder Sends Cease-And-Desist To Zazzle Over Products Using 3,000-Year-Old Greek Letter”

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63 Comments
ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Just goes to show that copyright isn’t about protecting the rights of artists and creators at all. It’s only about getting a bigger piece of the pi.

I was going to bash you over the head for conflating copyright and trademark infringement, but this two-bit intellectual property lawyer actually is confusing the two! Trademark infringement is not Copyright infringement, and an intellectual property lawyer should know the difference between the two, unless this guy isn’t actually an intellectual property lawyer.

Lurker Keith says:

Re: Re:

The earliest use predates Greek as a written language. But we can just stop at Greek, which is in the Public Domain, being a Language.

Math is also Public Domain. (He even acknowledges it’s the Mathematical Constant.)

As soon as this moron sues someone who won’t back down & is willing to take it all the way to trial, it should get invalidated.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not to mention that you shouldn’t be able to trademark a symbol followed by punctuation that would naturally occur at the end of a sentence containing only public domain language and characters.

For instance: The Greek symbol for pi is .

Oh my god, I just infringed a trademark!?! Techdirt has ads too! Now they’re profiting off of this idiot’s trademark! Lawsuit!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Backdoor trademark

Since trademarking the symbol pi (absent any distinctive styling in design or font) is blatantly disallowed, it seems to me that trademarking pi followed by a full stop should only be allowed in a very limited sense. If the “confusingly similar” standard is applied to that trademark, it ends up with the effect of trademarking the symbol all by itself. In other words, it’s a backdoor way of trademarking the untrademarkable.

That this trademark is inherently “confusingly similar” to something that is disallowed, courts should apply the trademark very, very narrowly.

In my opinion Paul Ingrisano shouldn’t have been able to get this trademark approved as is. He should have had to add something to make is actually distinctive — an unusual font, or a specific color, for instance.

Spaceman Spiff says:

Fire the lot of them!

All of the trademark, copyright, and patent examiners at the USPTO should be summarily dismissed for gross incompetence! This is just… outrageous isn’t sufficiently harsh for the harm these idiots are doing in our names, but is “patently” a matter of fraud and extortion!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Quick question:

Why does anyone still use Zazzle? They not only don’t stand up for their customers, at the first smell of legal threats they seem to go out of their way to screw them over, so why in the world do people still use their service? Are they really that eager to be smacked around, or is there just no decent alternative?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Quick question:

For the same reasons that people do business with GoDaddy, Paypal, EA or any number of other sleazeball companies: they’re too stupid to understand, too lazy to care, and too cheap to change. These companies know that and are quite happy to watch the clueful people walk away, while they retain the overwhelming majority.

Tice with a J (profile) says:

Another species of IP to add to my naughty list?

I’m an IP abolitionist, dedicated to the destruction of patent, copyright, database rights, and other aspects of IP. But I was willing to spare trademark. Though I wanted to see it reformed and reined in, I believed that trademark contained an essentially good idea (establishing identity and preventing confusion), and I was in favor of keeping trademarks.

In light of this new evidence, I am reconsidering my position.

Could someone point me to a good defense of trademark law, or at least a thorough analysis of it? If I can’t find one, I may have to add “abolish trademark” to my itinerary.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Another species of IP to add to my naughty list?

In my opinion, trademarks are the most defensible of IP categories. There is a clear public interest in making sure that companies can’t deliberately deceive people by using other’s trademarks. Also, trademarks are much more limited in scope. When you get a trademark, it only applies to specific product categories — companies in other businesses can use your mark. Also, the mark has to be actually in use — you can’t get a trademark and sit on it “just in case”. Also also, there’s actually a registry for them, so you can find out what trademarks exist!

All that said, trademarks — like everything else — can be abused or improper. I think this is such a case.

Lurker Keith says:

Greek Athlete

What’s this moron going to do when he finds a Greek (or Greek-American) Athlete w/ the Middle initial Pi w/ his name on a jersey?

Now let’s scratch the athlete part & just look at anyone who’s name includes Pi as an initial w/ his/ her initials on the sports-type shirt. Is he really claiming he owns parts of someone else’s name?

King of Hearts says:

Crazy Laws

We live in an insane society. There is no accounting for insanity. NWO now threatens prison for speaking truth. Bogus secrecy laws gag the public. Prisons for profit. Outsourced wars, torture, etc.

Why should copyright and patent laws be any different?

Thousands of patents are denied in the interest of national security.

I just heard a fellow tell of a friend of his who went to his local bank (Chase) to withdraw a modest amount of cash, only to be informed that his account had been frozen because his name didn’t sound American, according to the (so-called) Patriot Act.

We are doomed. Stick a fork in us.

Welcome to Loony Tunes.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Crazy Laws

“only to be informed that his account had been frozen because his name didn’t sound American, according to the (so-called) Patriot Act.”

If that’s the actual reason, then your friend should absolutely sue Chase. There is a ton of nasty things in the Patriot act, but freezing accounts because people have foreign names isn’t one of them.

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