Illinois Woman Files For Trademark On Phrase 'I Can't Breathe' Because This Is America Damn It

from the infringing-protest dept

You know, when you write for Techdirt, you see so many silly trademark stories that you become sort of numb to them. Even when it comes down to people, multiple people, attempting to trademark simple words and phrases because we've reached a point where we think anything can be owned with the proper government documents, you don't really react. But then you hear about a woman from your home-state thinking it's okay to trademark the phrase of a man who died at the hands of police hundreds of miles away, the phrase that was the last he was ever to utter, the phrase that has become a rallying cry for a protest designed to seriously take on the issue of police abuse, and you find that you still have those emotional nerve endings within you.

An Illinois woman is seeking to trademark the dying last words of the New York City man who gasped “I can’t breathe” while being arrested by NYPD cops for selling loose cigarettes. In a December 13 application, Catherine Crump petitioned the United States Patent and Trademark Office to register the phrase for use on hoodies and t-shirts for men, women, boys, girls, and infants.
I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. The depravity here astounds me. First, even if the phrase coined by a deceased now-icon of a protest qualifies for trademark by the person who didn't utter it, the idea of it is so distasteful that I hope for that reason alone this application is denied. But the claims within the application are astounding.
The 57-year-old Crump, who lives in Waukegan, a city 40 miles north of Chicago, contends that she has been using “I can’t breathe” for commercial purposes since “at least as early” as August 18, one month after Eric Garner, 43, died following a confrontation with police on Staten Island.
Keep specifically in mind the claim that Crump claims her use in the immediate aftermath of Garner's death has always been commercial in nature. Keep it in mind both because it serves beautifully that Crump is both a horrible person and likely a liar when she says the following.
In an interview, Crump said that she had “nothing to do with the Garner family,” and had not spoken to them about her trademark bid. While claiming that her purpose for marketing “I can’t breathe” garments was not to make money, she declined to disclose what other reason there was for her trademark filing (which cost $325).
Riiight. Say whatever you like, you're milking the death of an unarmed black man from hundreds of miles away, and now attempting to lock up the ability to do so for yourself. I'd like to think that nobody else would think to do something like this, but I'd probably be wrong. Worst of all, any attempt to enforce this trademark, in the event that it was granted, would hinder the ability of the protesters to get their message across. That would bring the horror of this full circle: you locked up the dying words of a man whose death can't be protested effectively because of your doing so. Brilliant.


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 19 Dec 2014 @ 2:16am

    Let her patent it

    And then, the very first time she tried to enforce her patent, just sit back and watch as the public and press tore her to shreds over her pathetic, disgusting attempt to cash in on someone else's death.

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

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 19 Dec 2014 @ 4:26am

      Re: Let her patent it

      Which would miss part of the target: if this patent ever makes through then the patent office has a huge issue and deserves a lot of backlash. The woman will already have a good dose of backlash for even trying. Tim qualified her just right, she's despicable.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 4:58am

      Re: Let her patent it

      Trademark, not patent.

      And cashing in on death and misery is an old, old tradition among the greedy segment of the population. Just watch what happens when some national tragedy happens and all the domainers -- who are some of the most vile, abusive sociopaths on the planet -- rush to register domain names so that they can cash in on the search traffic.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 6:09am

      Re: Let her patent it

      This is about a trademark application that will be resoundingly rejected by the USPTO. It has absolutely nothing to do with patent law, with the only relationship being that trademark and patent application examiners work within the same buildings.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 19 Dec 2014 @ 1:23pm

        Re: Re: Let her patent it

        True enough, my bad for choosing the wrong terminology, I just wish I was as sure as you that they'll reject it. Some pretty crazy stuff makes it through the system after all.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 19 Dec 2014 @ 4:30am

    If she used the term in a line of scuba diving equipment not trying to cash in protesters anger it would probably be more effective and she wouldn't face a good load of backlash in the face.

    Then again there is the fact people buy Guy Fawkes mask from semi-slave labor granting Warner (was it?) their penny for the wonders of copyrights.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 4:37am

    You know what? I’m gonna say something and not feel the least bit bad about it.

    *ahem*

    What a bitch.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 5:10am

    Oddly, perhaps a good thing overall

    The increasing levels of outrageousness we see in such things will, perhaps now, reach a point where even more people currently just sitting on their sofas will finally conclude that this is all just really screwed up.

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

    • identicon
      David, 19 Dec 2014 @ 6:06am

      Re: Oddly, perhaps a good thing overall

      This is the U.S.A. we are talking about. The people currently just sitting on their sofas will clamor "why didn't I think of this first?".

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 6:26am

        Re: Re: Oddly, perhaps a good thing overall

        This fundamentally bothers me. Most people don't think of copyright, patent, and trademark law as the stifling tools that they are, or how those laws could be used against them.

        They see them as lottery tickets to easy money.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 5:25am

    Just imagine if one letter was changed.

    I can breath.

    tm me.

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

  • icon
    NoahVail (profile), 19 Dec 2014 @ 5:29am

    Since when is Intellectual Property EVER about ethics?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 6:03am

    As far as i'm concerned humanity just forfeited its right to existence.

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

  • icon
    Ramon Creager (profile), 19 Dec 2014 @ 6:14am

    Trademarks and Patents as a Lottery

    People seem to be treating these as a lottery. First-come-first-served! Easy money! I didn't create this but I was clever because I was first! This does nothing at all to promote trade, and if the USPTO grants this it is playing right into this perception of lottery and easy money.

    Unfortunately, given the sorry record of our government to date, I can also no longer dismiss the thought that the USPTO will be urged to grant this as a political move to throw a monkey wrench into the protests.

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

    • identicon
      David, 19 Dec 2014 @ 7:43am

      Re: Trademarks and Patents as a Lottery

      That's not the definition of a lottery but of a Ponzi scheme.

      Of course, it also is the embodiment of the original American Dream: arrive on a wide plane, put up fences, declare yourself the rightful owner and shoot the people who had already been "trespassing" on your land long before you ever set foot to it. Do that while being fully supported/backed-up by a "rightful government" willing to defend your "rights" with heavy artillery.

      This "stake your claim" mentality is pervading the areas of "Intellectual Property": the important thing is not being the first in some well-travelled place. The important thing is being the first who chases everybody else off at gunpoint.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 6:14am

    Intellectual Property

    I can’t breathe! I'm being suffocated by intellectual property laws!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 6:16am

    I say let her have it. Seriously. Then the first time she tries to make restrictive use of it, we can sit back and enjoy the resultant severe social justice which will undoubtedly occur.

    Stupidity should be painful.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 7:20am

    Sadly I can see the usual trolls cheering this bitch on for her decision to promote the arts and sciences, or something.

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

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 19 Dec 2014 @ 7:20am

    Can common phrases by trademarked?

    This is probably a rhetorical question, but since when can common phrases be trademarked? I can understand phrases used as slogans like "I'm lovin it" or "You're in good hands", but how is anyone able to secure a trademark on something that people are already using?

    The bigger problem is that the people at the trademark office may be so overworked that they simply rubber-stamp this and let it go through without realizing the consquences.

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

  • icon
    Blaine (profile), 19 Dec 2014 @ 8:19am

    Maybe she knows exactly what she's doing

    Maybe it's truly not about the money.

    Maybe she actually wants to hinder the protests in anyway she can.

    It's hard to get a movement like that rolling, a couple little speed bumps here and there and it stumbles and fades away.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 8:42am

    Trademark Pending

    "I was killed by New York cops and all I got was this crummy copyright injunction."

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

  • icon
    Kaega (profile), 19 Dec 2014 @ 8:50am

    Counter Claim

    I used this phrase back in 1994 when I had an asthma attack. Sorry lady.

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

  • identicon
    Ruth Easley, 19 Dec 2014 @ 9:16am

    Your Opinion

    My husband once told me an opinion was like an asshole, EEVERYBODY HAS 1. tHAT'S WHAT i THINK OF YOUR COMMENTARY.

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

  • identicon
    Ruth Easley, 19 Dec 2014 @ 9:16am

    Your Opinion

    My husband once told me an opinion was like an asshole, EEVERYBODY HAS 1. tHAT'S WHAT i THINK OF YOUR COMMENTARY.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 9:18am

    Catherine Crump her last name by definition says it all http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/crump

    she totally self crumped in this endeavor.

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

  • identicon
    TGOET, 19 Dec 2014 @ 10:53am

    Contact info

    A quick search of the trademark database yields her phone and email. You can tell her directly how you feel.

    http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/gate.exe?f=tess&state=4809:joqw0g.1.1

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

    • identicon
      Jim G., 19 Dec 2014 @ 2:07pm

      Re: Contact info

      Sure, she's a jerk, who has already received bad publicity and will fail in her trademark attempt. Harassing her with calls and email is also being a jerk. Encouraging others to harass her is also being a jerk.

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

    • icon
      Eldakka (profile), 20 Dec 2014 @ 2:36pm

      Re: Contact info

      Rather than directly contacting and harassing her, while not file an Notice of Opposition with the USPTO at http://estta.uspto.gov/filing-type.jsp (select "Notice of Opposition" from the drop down near the bottom of the page under the "File a new proceeding" heading).

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 2:10pm

    57-year-old Crump, is either a racist or a greedy person seeking to profit off an innocent person's death. Either way, that makes her a horrible person.

    This is yet another example of horrible people flocking towards Intellectual Privilege monopolies. Trying to create a permission based society.

    You can't protest with your "I can't breathe shirt", unless you bought it from me, Catherine Crump. Your entire protest movement is infringing on my Intellectual Privilege.

    This is what a permission based societies looks like.

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

  • identicon
    Zonker, 19 Dec 2014 @ 2:19pm

    I'm almost surprised that she didn't include tobacco products for coverage under that trademark application.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2014 @ 4:27pm

    Could Crump be intentionally sacrificing her reputation for the greater good? Imagine that she gets the TM, and then starts making infringement claims left and right. Local police (and maybe federal alphabet agencies) start raiding print shops and arresting street vendors all over the country, including those who are giving away materials during protests and demonstrations. This could only help cast LEAs in an even worse light, and inflame the outrage directed at them...

    Or am I giving her too much credit?

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

  • identicon
    Kronomex, 21 Dec 2014 @ 2:52pm

    "While claiming that her purpose for marketing “I can’t breathe” garments was not to make money..." What a vile and repulsive person!

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


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