Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Can You Patent How You Spin An Advertising Sign On A Street Corner?

from the yikes dept

Even with the Supreme Court helping to put some common sense back into the patent system, there are still plenty of people who clearly want to stretch the purpose of the patent system for beyond its constitutional purpose. The latest is highlighted by Justin Levine at Against Monopoly. He points to a fascinating and amusing LA Times article about the rough-and-tumble, cut-throat world of street corner sign spinning. You've probably seen the folks, standing on street corners with big cardboard signs, advertising homes for sale or a new tanning salon or whatever. Apparently, it's a big business and a very competitive one. However, the point Justin highlights shows to the extreme it's reached:
Aarrow keeps dozens of moves in a "trick-tionary," which only a handful of people have seen, said co-founder Mike Kenny. The company records spinners' movements and sends them in batches to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "We have to take our intellectual property pretty seriously," he said.
Read that again. The company is trying to protect the way street corner advertisers spin their signs. Thomas Jefferson is rolling over in his grave.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    jLl, May 3rd, 2007 @ 7:02am

    In what way is this taking intellectual property pretty seriously???

    And when did serious become synonymous for absurd?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Poster, May 3rd, 2007 @ 7:10am

    A whole new kind of stupid

    "I'm not familiar with this type of thing I'm seeing." -- Calculon, Futurama Jeez, I know you have to do your best to protect your intellectual property in this day and age, but attempting to patent THE WAY YOU SPIN A SIGN ON THE STREET? Does that mean (assuming the patents go through, and if there's a just and loving God, they won't) if someone accidentally duplicates one of this company's "tricktionary" movements, they could get sued into oblivion? That's a level of idiocy I don't think I've ever witnessed before. From now on, I'm calling all idiotic patents like this Sign-Spinner Patents.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    TheDock22, May 3rd, 2007 @ 7:33am


    I hope the government decides to shut this one down soon or it will open the floodgates for more ridiculous patents.

    I like the idiotic patents being Sign-Spinner Patents. I may adopt that as well AP. =)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    M, May 3rd, 2007 @ 7:39am

    Re: A whole new kind of stupid

    but creating new ways for people to sue each other benefits everyone...oh no, wait...only lawyers benefit.

    weird how that happens

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    redhammy, May 3rd, 2007 @ 7:44am

    It'll never work

    Don't worry, it'll never work. I've been trying to patent my trademark 4-finger-flick for years now with no success. I've since come to my senses and decided against the patent route. If other street advertisement athletes want to duplicate my moves, let them. I just hope they stretch first because I don't wanna get sued if they injure themselves.

    /not really.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    BillGod, May 3rd, 2007 @ 7:53am

    wha wha what?

    The more I hear of these the more I cannot believe they are true? I keep telling myself that there is NO WAY that stuff like this happens.. then I hit a reality check..

    1. Lawyers get paid to make laws
    2. Lawyers get paid to enforce those laws
    3. Lawyers get paid to find loop-holes in the laws lawyers got paid to create..

    It makes perfect sense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Mitch the Bitch, May 3rd, 2007 @ 7:57am

    Spinning out of control

    Wasn't this a Seinfeld episode?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Mike Brown, May 3rd, 2007 @ 8:10am

    Reflects more on reporting than patenting...

    "The company records spinners' movements and sends them in batches to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office."

    Just how did this morph into "opening the floodgates for ridiculous patents" requiring the government to shut anything down?

    I see five interpretations of this rather vague description in a newspaper article:

    1. The article said they send something in batches to the US patent AND TRADEMARK office. As the name implies, that office handles applications for both patents and trademark registrations. Perhaps the company hopes to claim trademark rights in particular methods of spinning signs. They're saying, in essence, "if you see someone spin a sign in this particular way, that means this advertising comes from Aarow". If the pattern of spinning does, in fact, serve a source-indicating function (that is, only Aarow's employees use a particular way of waving a sign) this would be proper, and no different than registering a rotating pattern of lights in the sky as a trademark (Ballantyne's searchlights, reg. 2323892), or "THE AUDIO AND VISUAL REPRESENTATION OF A COIN SPINNING ON A HARD SURFACE," (Northwestern Bank, reg. 641872), a particular sound (the Tarzan yell for action figures, reg. 2210506), or anything else which serves to distinguish your goods/services from someone else's.

    2. They really are filing patent applications to protect specific sets of sign movements as methods of advertising. I'd tend to agree that such a patent would be sort of useless, but methods are patentable. The claim could be something like "A method of advertising by a person on a street corner comprising the step of doing a backbend on one hand while spinning a sign above the person's head." At a minimum cost of $1,500 in filing and issue fees alone, per patent, that would seem to be a very expensive way of "protecting" a very narrow method. If they're really trying to patent a batch at a time, that could get very expensive very quickly. If they are doing this, none of the applications has yet been published and no patents have issued, at least not assigned to Aarow.

    3. The company is completely clueless, and thinks that sending batches of descriptions of moves to the USPTO somehow protects their Intellectual Property. Never discount ignorance or stupidity as an explanation.

    4. The company (or the reporter) has confused the USPTO with the Copyright Office, and are sending their "Trick-tionary" with its writeups in for registration of copyright, in the belief that this somehow protects the moves themselves. Interestingly, this might actually work - choreography is one of the things which can be protected by copyright, and you can register a claim to the copyright in a dance or pantomime, so long as it's "fixed in a tangible medium of expression". Suing for violation of copyright in one of the moves "fixed" in the "Trick-tionary" could be a fascinating copyright suit indeed...


    5. The reporter is completely clueless and has absolutely no idea what intellectual property, the USPTO, or anything else is.

    I vote for number 5, personally.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    angry dude, May 3rd, 2007 @ 8:18am

    Re: Reflects more on reporting than patenting...

    Number 5, of course

    (also to include Mike Masnick as one of the most clueless dudes...)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    MJ, May 3rd, 2007 @ 8:19am

    Now Seinfeld will really go after that guy...

    Reminds me of that Seinfeld episode, with the umbrella twirling...,,47725|314580|,00.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Supra, May 3rd, 2007 @ 8:25am

    Number 4

    I agree with number Mike Brown's #4. I think it could potentially be copyrighted.

    Bikram Yoga was recently copyrighted, for example. Even though all the movements are in the public domain, a particular sequence of unprotected public domain "facts" can be copyrighted as an original "selection and arrangement." If the sign-spinners have a particular order of moves, I think it could be done!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2007 @ 8:34am

    taking the possibility of confusing copyright and trademark aside, this brings up a few interesting points: if you do a youtube search for sign spinners, some of what these guys are doing are pretty cool, and yes different then your typical sign holders. Might they be covered under the same protections dancers and...cheerleaders/dance squads/baton twirlers get for their moves? I'd say its reasonable. However, I'd like to see a high school cheerleading squad sue AArrow for infringement, since I;ve seen many of these exact same moves performed during half time shows!!!! also, that might qualify as prior art.
    The second issue is that if an employee of Aarrow comes up with his own routine, and aarrow "IP's" it, then the employee can never perform that same "trick" if he goes to work for another sign company, since the creation of an employee as part of his job belongs to an employeer. Maybe these spinners will form a union and add their own protections to future sign spinning employment contracts?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Shohat, May 3rd, 2007 @ 8:41am


    Spinning in grave is patented
    I am sending am immediate cease and desist to Thomas Jefferson.
    We at B166er, take our intellectual property pretty seriously, and I don't remember releasing "method and/or machine for spinning in grave" under any license.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Morell E. Mullins, May 3rd, 2007 @ 8:58am

    related copyright contention

    A law professor at UA-Fayetteville apparently has an article coming out in a reputable law review contending that your emails, and this one, are protected by copyright and nobody can forward your emails, copy them, etc. (I take on position on the sanity of this, although from a strictly legalistic standpoint, it might have merit, arguably.) STORY FOLLOWS

    According to local pundit Pat Lynch: Associated Press reports a law professor at the
    University of Arkansas at Fayetteville believes
    forwarding emails violates long-standing laws
    protecting letter writers back to the days of quill
    pens. Assistant Professor Ned Snow argues in an
    article to be published in the Kansas Law Review that
    common law protects text message and e-mail writers
    from having their words forwarded or published on Web
    sites for public view.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Supra, May 3rd, 2007 @ 9:17am

    Re: Spinning

    Hilarious. Thank you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    DES, May 3rd, 2007 @ 9:38am

    I know where this is headed...

    The Ministry of Silly Walks

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Feral, May 3rd, 2007 @ 9:39am

    Industrious people

    Apparently Los Angeles is home to more industrious people than Ohio. The people out here who do that just stand on the corner with their signs. Heck, some of them sit in lawn chairs while they do it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    rEdEyEz, May 3rd, 2007 @ 10:49am

    That's nothing...

    My stripper girlfriend is in the process of copyrighting/patenting over 50 different suggestive moves, include at least 10 different provocative "pole spins and slides."

    Needless to say, she will rule the ENTIRE gentlemen's entertainment industry!

    ...licensing will be cash only.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    JoeBob, May 3rd, 2007 @ 10:56am


    "And when did 'serious' become synonymous for 'absurd'?"

    About the time that patents stopped "promoting innovation."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2007 @ 11:17am

    Re: That's nothing...

    how will she prove non-prior art? will she have to patent the moves in all stages of undress? (full nude, topless, pasties, and dressed?)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Spinner, May 3rd, 2007 @ 11:20am

    Wrong court ...

    Seems like those "spinners" are actually "Performance Art" ... perhaps the MPAA, et. al., ought to get involved and really make a mess.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    ehrichweiss, May 3rd, 2007 @ 12:45pm

    Re: Number 4

    This is true. You can't copyright a recipe but you can copyright a collection of recipes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Vincent Clement, May 3rd, 2007 @ 12:47pm

    Re: Spinning out of control

    The Checks - Season 8, Episode 7

    Jerry claims to have invented the twirl used to sell umbrellas. Another individual claims to have invented.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    ehrichweiss, May 3rd, 2007 @ 12:49pm

    Re: That's nothing...

    ....licensing will be paid in ones, fives and tens only.

    Fixed that for ya.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    TheDock22, May 3rd, 2007 @ 3:31pm

    Re: wha wha what?

    1. Lawyers get paid to make laws 2. Lawyers get paid to enforce those laws 3. Lawyers get paid to find loop-holes in the laws lawyers got paid to create.. Actually, politicians and congress get paid to make laws. The police and judges get paid to enforce those laws. Lawyers do get paid to find loop-holes, but a "loop-hole" is just a matter of interpretation of said laws...made by congress...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    TheDock22, May 3rd, 2007 @ 3:35pm

    Re: Reflects more on reporting than patenting...

    Don't forget:

    6. The company is filing the paperwork anyway to see what actually comes of it. If in their favor, then they will go around suing everyone who uses their moves. If not in their favor, well at least they got some media exposure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Javarod, May 3rd, 2007 @ 7:29pm

    Actually ifn this is the group I've seen out here in Phoenix, I'd almost be willing to let them have this one. I'm a taxi driver, and it takes a lot to get my attention, and these guys manage it. Picture a guy twirling a sign roughly 3 to 4ft long by about 18 to 24in like a baton. Its not only impressive, it looks like they've gotten quite a bit of training, why not perfectly choreographed, they've clearly trained as opposed to those people who just stand there and wave them occasionally (or the guy holding one with one hand while sitting in a lawn chair).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Ben Robinson, May 4th, 2007 @ 5:36am

    Jesus tap dancing christ, people actually get paid to stand there and hold signs and/or spin them round a bit. Only in America...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Grey M., May 27th, 2007 @ 9:01am


    well you guys hav know idea what your talking about i am a sign spinner and if you can write a book you hav the right to patent it becuase its your words and your creativity. we use our creativity to make tricks to be better advertisers/performers. so it only makes sence that you can patent a trick that you make up. you hav every right to it just like you would if you wrote a book.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    bruno, Jul 6th, 2007 @ 8:16am

    intellectual property

    I'm an Accounts Manager for AArrow. You all need to get your heads straight. This IS a competitive business. There are companies in CA that claim to have started from scratch with their own innovative idea - OUR innovative idea. I'm sure no one will get sued for accidentally performing one of our moves...but those who try to steal our work deserve to be sued into oblivion. First off, if you think that this is ridiculous, you haven't seen this craft at its height. There is a great deal of skill, talent, and practice that goes into perfecting these tricks, not to mention the numerous injuries one sustains until acheiving success. Many of our tricks are so complicated that anyone trying to steal them wouldn't be able to - but since we DO have an exclusive training and trick system, it's important to ensure that no one leaves our company and takes our moves with them. If you were a software engineer and you wrote an amazing line of code, trained your coworkers on how to include that line in their own programs, and then watched as they took YOUR code to other companies, shouldn't you be entitled to legal protection?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    bruno, Jul 6th, 2007 @ 8:19am


    And there is absolutely NO "sign holding, and spinning them around a bit." Maybe you saw a fresh trainee who wore his or herself out a bit quickly, but the majority of our company is extremely athletic and intense. If you need an example so that you might better wrap your brain around this concept, do a Google Video search for AArrow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Mr. Poopy, Jul 7th, 2007 @ 10:56am

    Waah waah waah

    I will enjoy seeing just how many different lawsuits come about regarding this issue, since I'm holding patents on all possible ways to sue. Tons of money will thus roll my way, but then I'll lose all of it to some other time-blessed brainiac who holds patents on ways to collect money.

    Jeez bruno, get a life. Some things are more important than being the one to say "I came up with that". I sure don't remember streetcorner breakdancers suing each other over their "unique" moves. By your logic, doesn't the very first homeless person who came up with the ubiquitous "will work for food" sign deserve some kind of credit?

    Your problem relates to being greedy and selfish, not artsy or innovative. Have a great day. :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Jonathon, Sep 17th, 2007 @ 5:35pm


    hahah not only in america but EUROPE to check out the website and stop being so closed minded if you invented something and alot of people kept going to the same places you were trying to sell your product to but they tried to sell it at a cheaper quality and price

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Human Directional, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 1:51pm

    It's not practical.... It will never work

    I'm sign spinner. I do it on the weekends mainly for extra income. I really don't see how anyone could patent the moves. The patent means nothing without enforcement and who is actually going to bother to stand around and watch spinners to see if they are violating ownership rights. Very very odd. But interesting article. If you ever see me in OC honk .. my bumper sticker reads Sign Spinners do it with Coroplast Signs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    Casonova84, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 4:53pm

    Sign Spinning is a New Sport!

    Its as simple as this: AArrow Sign Spinning is a new extreme sport that interlocks street performing with advertising.

    We're not trying to sue ANYONE. We're simply saying this, "Look, We (AArrow) have taken this (form of outdoor advertising) to a whole new level. A level that cannot be compared. We are the elite of the elite when it comes to "Sign Spinning". like the bilderberg group (if you dont know who they are, then keep drinking your flouride water.)

    Its like this:
    In martial arts you have various movements and techniques that clarify a specific type of martial art. for example, if you watch any fight or mma videos and you yourself know certain types of martial arts, then you yourself can say, "hey he just did a jump hook kick." but, To the untrained eye, noone knows wtf that is. however, you do because you have the experience to know exactly what it is. maybe you took tae kwon do and thats why you know... Well sign spinning is exactly like a martial art in the sense that if you dont do it or study it, then you wont know wtf is going on.

    AArrow just wants to copyright its specific style of sign spinning.

    for this reason you wont see knockoff companies doing our stylistic moves. they'll have to make up their own stuff. you catch me?

    you dont see kung fu experts copyrighting a kick, no. but what you so see is a clear definition of that kicks origin. the style, the technique, and the person/s responsible for it.

    We (AArrow) know that people are going to try to copy us, we dont mind, we're just clarifying Our own style of Sign Spinning,

    We are simply trying to protect what we do.

    Its like Velcro man, it was actually micro loop/hook technology that makes it what it is. Who cares, because when you buy Velcro your paying for a marketed brand that secured and controlled what it created. Velcro isnt saying u cant make micro loop/hook technology, but what they are saying is that you damn sure better not call it Velcro.

    thats America for you, From Freedom to Fascism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Sign Spinners, Apr 28th, 2008 @ 12:28pm

    Sign Spinners

    I'm sorry Casanova, but I don't follow you at all. First you say you won't sue anyone, then you say you want to protect what's yours, then you say you don't want anyone else using the name of your style which seems to be unknown anyway so I'm unsure as to why you would feel threatened by this.

    Exactly what is the name of the style you are trying to protect and who on Earth cares about the name anyway?

    I bet you one trade marked spin that the only reason for declaring property rights is for the followup publicity. ;-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Elias Roman Armendariz, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 5:03am

    Probable reasoning

    One reasoning for patenting the moves is in fact to protect the aarrow method from being duplicated. There are in fact companies started from ex-spinners. Spacewalk is an example. Also as a sign spinner I've been offered deals to "share" my knowledge of Aarrow. But to some good thinking from Aarrow, I'm not allowed to disclose any information like that legally.

    It's the next big thing and everyone wants to copy it. It only makes sense to protect what you created. Selfish and Greedy? Isn't that the point of business and marketing? It's called competition, and patenting what you started gives you a huge advantage. Why wouldn't you want to do something like that?

    As for the opening the flood gates. That's taking it to an extreme. Just like saying well if gays can get married soon people and animals can get married. It's just absurd.

    Now patenting tricks might seem odd, it's purpose isn't to sue everyone who does the trick. If someone directly stole *with given proof* the "group of tricks" then action can be taken. Also if an ex-spinner used his knowledge to create a company or just became and independent spinner, he'd have to wait a certain amount of years before doing so. This isn't some random bull shit thinking. These steps have been thought out carefully. Unlike most of these comments. This has been reviewed by lawyers, patent makers, and other intelligent individuals. So before you speak your view, do you really think your logic out does theirs?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    SIgn Flip, Jul 24th, 2010 @ 12:46pm

    Makes No Sense

    We have developed a community called We intend to create a community of people who enjoy the art of sign spinning. We think of Sign Spinning as an art form just like break dancing or martial arts. The performers at Aarrow would like to copyright the art form and we think that is interesting, but are confused about their motives. We at SignFlip promote everyones ability to practice and perform this art without regulations and rules. If someone decides to go out on their own and find business for themselves, Aarrow is saying they can't. We cannot condone this behavior. There are no copyrights or patents on MMA moves and fighting styles. There are no copyrights or patents on skateboarding tricks or bike tricks. The explanations written here by Aarrow reps worry us and lead us at SignFlip to believe they will use these actions to monopolize the market. We at SignFlip will be watching this situation unfold.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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