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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  • icon
    CK20XX (profile), 2 Jun 2014 @ 3:11pm

    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.

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

    • icon
      ltlw0lf (profile), 2 Jun 2014 @ 3:41pm

      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.

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

      • icon
        CK20XX (profile), 2 Jun 2014 @ 5:26pm

        Re: Re:

        Yeah, I pondered making the distinction, but brevity is the soul of wit and a lot of copyright abuses you also see in trademark infringement cases, as demonstrated here.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2014 @ 3:13pm

    Horrible Artist trying for fame?

    Must be an awful artist if he can only get his name out pulling this.

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

    • identicon
      andesi, 10 Jun 2014 @ 5:41am

      Re: Horrible Artist trying for fame?

      He not only is a horrible artist, but a horrible person too. I know him and he is the scum of the earth.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2014 @ 3:13pm

    He's a pi rat.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2014 @ 3:15pm

    Someone needs to claim descendancy from the earliest named author known to have used this symbol and sue this PImpersonator for wilful copyright infringement.

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

    • identicon
      Lurker Keith, 2 Jun 2014 @ 8:06pm

      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.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2014 @ 10:28pm

        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!

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2014 @ 11:44am

        Re: Re:

        You are wrong. A single word, symbol, etc. IS very much eligible for a federal trademark registration. "Public domain" is a copyright term.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2014 @ 3:17pm

    Who is allowing this thru?

    We need to start going after the people who approve this garbage directly. Is there a way to find out who the actual person(s) is who approved this?

    Without some direct confrontation, this sort of stupidity will continue.

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

    • identicon
      Charles, 7 Jun 2014 @ 11:41am

      Re: Who is allowing this thru?

      There is nothing erroneous about this registration. It is 100% proper. It is registrant's attorney who is overstepping the boundaries of the rights conferred by the registration and also confusing their trademark rights with copyright law, which is something entirely different.

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

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 2 Jun 2014 @ 3:20pm

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2014 @ 6:58pm

      Re: Backdoor trademark

      Personally I blame the educational system. The symbol looks distinctive to many who have never seen it before because frankly they suck at high school math.

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

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 4 Jun 2014 @ 9:40am

      Re: Backdoor trademark

      If the "confusingly similar" standard is applied to that trademark, it ends up with the effect of trademarking the symbol all by itself.

      Reminds me of that game company threatening anyone making a game with the word "scrolls" in the title.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2014 @ 11:45am

      Re: Backdoor trademark

      Wrong. There is nothing in the Trademark Act that would disallow the registration of the symbol Pi.

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

  • icon
    Jay (profile), 2 Jun 2014 @ 3:20pm

    Just another guy trying to get a slice of someone else's pi.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous, 2 Jun 2014 @ 3:31pm

    If that's willful infringement, what would willnotful infringement be?

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

  • identicon
    Spaceman Spiff, 2 Jun 2014 @ 3:44pm

    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!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2014 @ 11:47am

      Re: Fire the lot of them!

      Maybe you should learn more about trademark law before you go accusing these public servants of having done something wrong. Also, copyright doesn't fall under the purview of the USPTO, but maybe you would know that if you knew anything about intellectual property law.

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

  • icon
    jameshogg (profile), 2 Jun 2014 @ 3:52pm

    Still not as generic as three black circles.

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

  • icon
    Josh (profile), 2 Jun 2014 @ 4:00pm

    Good thing they are not trying to trademark

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

  • identicon
    Zem, 2 Jun 2014 @ 4:02pm

    Would be interesting to check if it has been registered as an image or a word. If it's an image the odds are he is infringing someone else's copyright for the font used in the pi symbol.

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

  • icon
    mudlock (profile), 2 Jun 2014 @ 4:04pm

    Someone trademarked pi? Damn it!

    What are we going to use for hyperbole now?

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

  • identicon
    Tim A, 2 Jun 2014 @ 4:19pm

    Having his PI and eating it too

    Greece should sue him for abusing their alphabet.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2014 @ 4:32pm

    I'd like to nominate Paul Ingrisano

    for Douchebag of the Year. What a complete asshole. I do hope those affected file a class-action suit against him and take away EVERYTHING he has: he deserves to be bankrupt, homeless, and starving in the gutter.

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

    • identicon
      andesi, 10 Jun 2014 @ 5:45am

      Re: I'd like to nominate Paul Ingrisano

      Too late. He's been douchebag of the year, every year, since the day he was born. He will never be homeless because he lives in his parents basement mooching off of their living. It further allows him to be the lowlife piece of shit he was destined to be.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2014 @ 4:41pm

    I'm filing trademark applications for each letter and number in all alphabets, followed by a period. Then I will sue everyone who communicates using letters. /s

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

    • identicon
      Sacredjunk, 2 Jun 2014 @ 9:35pm

      Re:

      Well.. we would still be able to communicate using alphabets and words, just not with sentences, since those damn things end with a period.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2014 @ 5:07pm

    So, if you juxtapose any two things that you have nothing to do with, you can trademark that juxtaposition, and then sue people who sell those two things?
    Is Ingrisano going to sue everyone who makes something with a circle on it? He owns the dot as much as he owns the pi symbol, right?

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

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 2 Jun 2014 @ 5:13pm

    Quite frankly, these look like someone else's typeface or digital font. Go on, keep pushing, bro.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2014 @ 5:28pm

    I read the attached link, you didn't tell us his middle initial was R.


    I suspect someone trademarked ck.

    He needs to check if someone trademarked pri followed by ck (with or without the full stop but perhaps an added ! would be best, I leave it to his artistic judgement).

    Very few could argue with that.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Jun 2014 @ 5:47pm

    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?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2014 @ 6:01pm

      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.

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

    • icon
      G Thompson (profile), 2 Jun 2014 @ 7:04pm

      Re: Quick question:

      apathy, idiocy, lack of education, fricken clueless nutters.... all of the above

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

  • icon
    Tice with a J (profile), 2 Jun 2014 @ 7:31pm

    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.

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 3 Jun 2014 @ 8:16am

      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.

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

  • identicon
    Lurker Keith, 2 Jun 2014 @ 8:20pm

    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?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2014 @ 8:24pm

    I dare say we should peruse old math text books for prior art. Symbol pi followed by a period is sure to appear somewhere.

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

    • icon
      beltorak (profile), 3 Jun 2014 @ 12:23pm

      Re:

      "we decided not to consider the question of prior art, because it was bogging us down."

      - future juror

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

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 4 Jun 2014 @ 9:44am

      Re:

      I dare say we should peruse old math text books for prior art. Symbol pi followed by a period is sure to appear somewhere.

      You're thinking of patents. This is trademark, so only previous trademarks or uses in commerce would be applicable. Some text in a book probably wouldn't matter.

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

  • icon
    Nick Burns (profile), 2 Jun 2014 @ 9:33pm

    The irony is that somewhere deep inside pi is an encoded message on how to swiftly get rid of this idiot without a trace.

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

  • icon
    tarocanik (profile), 3 Jun 2014 @ 3:11am

    π

    ...
    ?
    profit!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2014 @ 3:17am

    I wonder if he's related to Edwin J. Goodwin

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2014 @ 3:25am

      Re: I wonder if he's related to Edwin J. Goodwin

      Actually this link is better:http://www.agecon.purdue.edu/crd/Localgov/Second%20Level%20pages/Indiana_Pi_Story.htm

      The Wikipedia article doesn't seem to mention that his value of pi could be used for free in the state of Indiana but everyone else would have to pay him a license fee

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

  • identicon
    John Cressman, 3 Jun 2014 @ 5:14am

    The pi

    The pi is a lie!

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

  • identicon
    Just Another Anonymous Troll, 3 Jun 2014 @ 8:11am

    Is he going to pull a King and try to trademark both the pi symbol and the period, in order to prevent theft of intellectual property that he totally stole from other people?

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

  • icon
    skeptacular (profile), 3 Jun 2014 @ 8:24am

    This gives me a great trademark idea!

    Do you suppose my trademark of the stylized phrase "Über Lüser" encircling an illo of Paul Ingrisano's head would fly?

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

  • icon
    mmrtnt (profile), 3 Jun 2014 @ 8:25am

    Wimps

    I stopped selling on Zazzle after they refused to allow me to offer this (It was titled 'Star Wars' at the time, but I like 'Shooting Star' better). Either way, it bears absolutely no resemblance to any Mouse-owned properties.

    Nevertheless, other print-on-delivery sites, Red Bubble, Society6 are not nearly as skittish

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2014 @ 8:38am

    I am waiting for the C&D to go to a fraternity/sorority which has Pi in its name - like Sigma Pi, which has been around since the late 1800s.

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

  • identicon
    King of Hearts, 3 Jun 2014 @ 10:37am

    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.

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

    • icon
      skeptacular (profile), 3 Jun 2014 @ 11:23am

      Re: Crazy Laws

      You just need a nice dose of Dr. Huxley's Soma Tablets. You'll see everything in a better light.

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 3 Jun 2014 @ 12:42pm

      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.

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

  • icon
    MASSMURDERMEDIA (profile), 3 Jun 2014 @ 2:26pm

    if this guy and his ambulance chaser had any stones, rather than shakedown mom & pops over t-shirts and such, why not go for a big payday and challenge Darren Aronofsky over his film Pi?...

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


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