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 uniformsThis 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.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.)
“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.”
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 topsThe 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.