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Who stole my pi.
June 2, 2014 8:23 AM   Subscribe

Man trademarks pi sign π. Hires attorney, submits takedown request letter to online DIY merchandiser Zazzle. In knee-jerk response, this past week Zazzle removed all merchandise bearing π sign.

Geeks give battle, and zazzle has rescinded.

For now.
posted by Mike Mongo (77 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why doesn't someone patent the copyright process and sue the government?
posted by blue_beetle at 8:33 AM on June 2 [60 favorites]


I think we need more of these - to highlight the absurdity of trademark law
posted by rebent at 8:33 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


Actually, the guy didn't trademark the pi sign, but the combination of the pi sign with a period (fullstop). When used as a trademark for clothing. I don't see a combination of a pi sign with a period in the image in this link. Also, I don't see usage of the pi sign as a trademark, rather it's used as an abstract pattern, and noone would understand it to be used as a trademark / brand name in that particular case. Good luck with that lawsuit, man. And when it's being thrown out of court, you might try suing the attorney who advised you to go ahead with this (if you were smart enough to ask one, that is.)

Sheesh, what will those geeks be all upset about next?
That some stupid company "stole" their letters "C", "O", "K" and "E"?
posted by sour cream at 8:38 AM on June 2


to highlight the absurdity of trademark law

And which absurdity would that be, exactly?
The absurdity that, if you think that someone infringes on your trademark (even if they're actually not), you are allowed to write them a letter and ask them to cut it out?

Or the absurdity that some people are simply wrong in asserting their rights? And noone stops them?

Or perhaps the absurdity that trademarks exist in the first place?
posted by sour cream at 8:42 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Or the absurdity that some people are simply wrong in asserting their rights? And noone stops them?

This kind of absurdity.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:47 AM on June 2 [11 favorites]


Well, the absurdity that people blindly follow "Cease and Desist" letters without doing even a cursory check on their validity.
posted by atbash at 8:48 AM on June 2 [10 favorites]


4 out of 5 stars: Would troll again.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:52 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


The absurdity that you can file for a patent or trademark on more or less anything, regardless of logic, and once it's granted it's up to people who were using whatever it is that you claim to prove they're not breaking the law.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:52 AM on June 2 [13 favorites]


you can't, like, own an idea, man!

ok but joking aside, I see that there's a balance between personal freedom and a functioning society, but I think that right now that balance has been (absurdly) unbalanced in favor of people who have the most lawyers.
posted by rebent at 8:52 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


Damnit, I should have read the whole thing. Anyway, good summary at Lowering the Bar.
posted by Mogur at 8:58 AM on June 2


i hope this stupidity isn't contagious, i need my A game today.
posted by bruce at 8:59 AM on June 2


Was this guy's end game to license the pi symbol?
posted by mullacc at 9:06 AM on June 2


Can you really blame him? The symbol was just sitting there on the window sill.
posted by srboisvert at 9:08 AM on June 2 [17 favorites]


Protip: if you hire an attorney to send a cease and desist claiming trademark infringement, your first clue you've gone very wrong is that the attorney demands that the recipient "CEASE AND DESIST ALL COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT".
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:11 AM on June 2 [34 favorites]


I've got it. I'll patent the process of issuing cease-and-desist orders.
posted by adamrice at 9:12 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]


Well, the absurdity that people blindly follow "Cease and Desist" letters without doing even a cursory check on their validity.

Hey, it's a free country. You're free to blindly follow whatever you want to.
posted by sour cream at 9:15 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Even irrational claims.
posted by sour cream at 9:20 AM on June 2 [18 favorites]


Even irrational claims.

Ha ! I see what you did there.
posted by Pendragon at 9:22 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Isn't the problem that Zazzle was trying to sidestep any liability by taking stuff down based on the cease and desist? So that instead of a court, with barriers to entry for the guy who trademarked the PI sign, you have a private company whose interest is in cover its own ass determining when a violation occurred?
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 9:24 AM on June 2


See also: DMCA and YouTube.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:25 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]


once it's granted it's up to people who were using whatever it is that you claim to prove they're not breaking the law.

That's ... not really how it works, or what happened.

A cease-and-desist letter isn't a court order. It's just a letter from a lawyer (usually), which you are free to ignore or not. It has no weight. Typically there's an explicit threat of legal action in the C&D, but sometime there isn't, or sometimes the threat is totally bogus or is clearly lacking in merit.

Unfortunately, people freak the fuck out on receiving C&Ds, sometimes mistaking them for actual court orders (which, if you don't comply with, can mean you're in contempt of court, not just in contempt of Joe Blow, Esq.). That looks to be what Zazzle did. Or alternately they're so terrified, I guess, of being taken to court that they knee-jerkingly just did whatever the C&D said, even though it was stupid.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:26 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


Why does this keep happening - I only ever hear about it in the United States, and it just seem so bizarre.

I have vague memories of either Warner Brothers or Spike Lee trying to claim trademark over the latter 'X' when Malcolm X the film came, out, but were unsuccessful because the judge stated that it is not 'reasonable' to apply trademark to a single letter of the alphabet in isolation, but I can't find any online reference to it now and Snopes has nada, so maybe I imagined it.

Is this just due to the way trademark and copyright work in the U.S. or this an international issue?

How can a mathematical symbol not already be in the public domain?
posted by Faintdreams at 9:27 AM on June 2


Is this really any different than Omega watches? Or trademarked fraternity/sorority letters?
posted by Carillon at 9:32 AM on June 2


Trademarks and copyrights are different things entirely.

You couldn't copyright a letter of the alphabet such as X, but you could trademark it to the degree it identified your brand within a specific area. For example if you made running shoes with an X on the side it would protect you against someone else making shoes with an X on the side but not someone making X branded mixing bowls or X branded films.

Courts look to consumer confusion - whether a consumer would believe the X brand mixing bowls were made by the folks who make X brand runners. So the symbol X would remain in the public domain and could only not be used in certain limited circumstances.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 9:33 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


Hah! My new company: Registered Trademark Productions. Checkmate, mother fuckers!

That's right, all y'all mother fuckers!
posted by Naberius at 9:36 AM on June 2 [8 favorites]


Isn't Zazzle notorious by now for this kind of immediate deletion of products for even the most absurd infringement claims? And for refusing to explain when they delete and/or reinstate products? From the 2nd link:

Print-on-demand websites are bombarded by these fraudulent claims every day, and most are rightly dismissed. But sites like Zazzle are so terrified of lawsuits, they often automate their content review process. The Cafepress upload system will not even publish any designs referencing intellectual property like Lord Of The Rings or Star Wars.

This means real human judgement is reduced to a bare minimum. And with an army of frauds like Ingrisano firing constant claims, it was a matter of time before a company made a poor judgement out of fear - even despite the clear and obvious fact you cannot trademark a generic symbol or letter. That company is Zazzle, and instead of admitting their error, they are helping Ingrisano steal pi.


I'd bet that it's not just automation that's the problem at Zazzle; the humans there seem perfectly OK with the immediate takedown approach. This response from Zazzle in the "zazzle has rescinded" link is bullshit:

Once Zazzle received the notice, as a service provider we are required to remove the design from Zazzle’s marketplace to avoid the risk of any willful infringement on the mark.

That's just not true. They can send a letter back, saying they're looking into it, and if they find infringement will quickly remove it, but instead what Zazzle does is go nuclear immediately, without any consideration of the merits of the copyright claim.

There've been lots of these cases with Zazzle in the past. It appears you have to get massive internet attention to get Zazzle to reverse its stupidity, and Zazzle never apologies for its idiotic, anti-consumer and anti-artist approach to fraudulent copyright claims.
posted by mediareport at 9:37 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


As for patent trolling, the tide may be turning. Normally the powers that be in this country love them some incumbents, but the pure patent troll that produces nothing but writs is too nakedly without value even for our dear leaders. There's no sympathy for them at any level, public or private.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:40 AM on June 2


How can a mathematical symbol not already be in the public domain?

Keep in mind: the trademark is not for the letter pi. It's for the two-character sequence of the letter pi, followed by a period. I.e.: "π."

It's still stupid, but the USPTO didn't actually register a trademark for the letter pi, in any context.

This whole shitstorm is 100% because Zazzle overreacted. They don't deserve to be in the business they're in if they haven't figured out how to respond to cranky C&Ds by now.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:41 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


The "Zazzle has rescinded" link goes to the blog of MeFi's own me, and man, it was killing me to be at the center of a weirdo story like this and not be able to do a post on it.

All the linked stuff has the gist of the story. The important bits are:

1) Ingrisano did not trademark pi, he trademarked a logo involving the pi symbol with a period after it. I don't think anyone has a problem with that.

2) However, he and his lawyer apparently interpreted it as a TM of pi itself, since they hit Zazzle (and other POD sites) with C&Ds demanding a takedown of any shirt with a pi symbol (the TM only covers shirts, so bumper stickers, etc were not affected or taken down) as this could cause consumer confusion.

3) Zazzle complied with this request and sent out notices saying that pi had to come down because of trademark infringement. They would not accept any arguments otherwise, even the sensible argument that the designs did not use the specific trademark in question. Nothing in Zazzle's communications indicated that this was a temporary situation pending review of the claim. On the contrary, it was strongly implied that this was a done deal.

4) I was contacted by a representative from the EFF on Friday, and when I sent my counter-notice email to Zazzle, I CCed her on it. I have no idea if she or anyone else from the EFF otherwise contacted them. Zazzle returned the designs to the marketplace shortly thereafter. I'm not saying this was because of that.

5) Other than a single shirt on Etsy and an Instagram pic I found of Paul Ingrisano wearing a shirt with the pi trademark on it, I haven't seen any of the shirts that these online designs were confusing customers with. It's mentioned he sells them in brick & mortar shops, and he himself doesn't have much of an online presence, though.

6) He's also trademarked "I<3" (I heart/love). We'll see how that works out for him.
posted by Legomancer at 9:43 AM on June 2 [23 favorites]


all y'all mother fuckers

Ahem. I'll have you know that that is a registered trademark of my company, MotherFuckers LLC.

You...you really don't want to see what the paperwork I had to file looked like.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 9:44 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


You wouldn't download an e, would you?
posted by b1tr0t at 9:53 AM on June 2 [12 favorites]


A cease-and-desist letter isn't a court order. It's just a letter from a lawyer (usually), which you are free to ignore or not. It has no weight.

We call those blafbrieven in Dutch, barking lettres, whenever some lawyer overreaches themselves and attempts to bluff people into complying.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:58 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


I've got it. I'll patent the process of issuing cease-and-desist orders.


I'm going to patent "a method for combining and deploying Romance and Germanic linguistic forms in speech or writing."

I'll show you all!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:59 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


TheWhiteSkull: That is genius, and I wish I had thought about it first.

Oh well, I'll file the companion applications on "a method for borrowing and adapting words from outside the current commonly-accepted dictionary of a language" and "a method for altering the common usage of a word in a language."
posted by seyirci at 10:02 AM on June 2


1. Trademark question mark symbol.
2. ???
3. Profit.
posted by me3dia at 10:05 AM on June 2 [54 favorites]


I tried looking up how Zazzle works, and there's a Wikipedia entry that says
Users are allowed to open their own shop for free and set the profit they wish to make on each item
With a low enough bar to entry for the users to sell things I would not be at all surprised if Zazzle was constantly dealing with sellers who thought they could upload a screen capture from their favourite TV show as long as they said "Fair-use" three times while looking in a mirror. So, similar to Youtube's takedown process, they optimize their process for that scenario, and then it fails spectacularly in scenarios like this because the people requesting take-downs are also idiots.


How can a mathematical symbol not already be in the public domain?
Public domain is a copyright thing, not a trademark thing. I keep referring to it as an example, but one of the oldest still in-use trademarks is the Bass beer trademark from 1875. Now, any copyright from 1875 would have long expired, but since the business still identifies itself with that trademark, if I were to start selling beer with a red triangle and the word "Bass"* on it, Bass would likely accuse me of trying to misrepresent my beer as theirs.

* I'm not entirely sure whether use of a similar red triangle would be enough, so I'll make it really blatant.

Hypothetically if I started the Π. beer company, then I might be able to argue that anyone else selling beer with Π prominently on the label was trying to pass their beer off as mine. And I guess Paul Ingrisano is trying to make the same claim, only with shirts. But I am personally skeptical that there are a lot of people buying Π shirts because they thought, "Hey that's one of those Paul Ingrisano shirts! I love those shirts!"
posted by RobotHero at 10:06 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]


Is the concept of prior art applicable in the trademark world, as it is (supposed to be) in the patent world? For example, if McDonald's had neglected to trademark "I'm Lovin' It", could I just go out an trademark that phrase in the context of fast food, without McDonald's having any recourse (other than infinite money with which to pay lawyers to harass me)?

Could I do it even if I am not in the fast food industry?
posted by Flunkie at 10:09 AM on June 2


You just made me think of making beer pie.

And now I am trying to figure out how such a feat of wizardry could work.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:10 AM on June 2


Hah! My new company: Registered Trademark Productions. Checkmate, mother fuckers!

That's right, all y'all mother fuckers!
posted by Naberius at 12:36 PM on June 2 [1 favorite +] [!]


Registered Trademark Productions is a registered trademark of Registered Trademark Productions is a registered trademark of Registered Trademark Productions is a registered trademark of Registered Trademark Productions is a registered trademark of Registered Trademark Productions
posted by rebent at 10:12 AM on June 2 [9 favorites]


It wouldn't be "prior art" because trademarks aren't about invention or novelty they're about protecting business identities and preventing confusion among consumers.

If McDonald's didn't use the phrase "i'm lovin it" for long enough they'd lose the trademark but the case would be fact specific with a court looking to whether consumers would be confused by it, how close your phrase/mark was, and if it was used in the same industry among other factors. At some point you would also have to be using mark.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 10:19 AM on June 2


You just made me think of making beer pie.

And now I am trying to figure out how such a feat of wizardry could work.




Pretty well, actually.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:19 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


No no, I know how to make that kind of pie. It's easy.

I mean straight up beer pie. Or savoury tarts. Like a beer butter tart. Or something.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:24 AM on June 2


If McDonald's didn't use the phrase "i'm lovin it" for long enough they'd lose the trademark
But I'm asking about the hypothetical case where they never trademarked it in the first place.

So years ago they started using "I'm lovin' it" in their ads. Hypothetically, they neglected to trademark it. Today, years later, Taco Bell applies for a trademark for "I'm lovin' it".

Does Taco Bell get the trademark, or does something akin to prior art (I'm not literally asking about the exact legal phrase "prior art") make the Patent and Trademark Office reject Taco Bell's application?
posted by Flunkie at 10:25 AM on June 2


The absurdity that you can file for a patent or trademark on more or less anything, regardless of logic

Do not confuse patents and trademarks here, they are very different things.

For example, one of the oldest trademarks around is a red equilateral triangle. Does this mean that nobody can use a red equilateral triangle on a shirt?

Of course not. You cannot use it in any way that could be confused with Bass Ale, so if you were selling beer with a red equilateral triangle on it, you would find yourself having words with the owners of that trademark.

The key here is "Trademark Distinctiveness." You have to have a distinct character. The string of pi plus a period isn't going to pass. A mark based on a particular shape of the letter pi, followd by a period, in a given color, might just pass. Indeed, in the modern era, the Bass trademark is the Triangle with the word Bass in a particular font under it, because the triangle alone had lost distinctiveness.

You can no more trademark "π." alone than you could "&." alone, as they not distinctive. In a particular font and color, quite possibly so. A good example here is the word "disney" isn't descriptive enough, but the word "Disney" in a script font that resemble's Walt Disney's handwriting is descriptive enough to be, and it fact is -- both just the last name and "Walt Disney" in the same font.

So, the fact that this guy asserted that any shirt with the letter pi was violating his trademark was wrong -- the letter pi is *far* too generic to be a trademark. The fact that Zazzle believed him is silly, but I can see a policy of "Takedown until our lawyer reviews" as a defense against a later suit, where they can say "the moment we were made aware, we took action." But, really, that should have taken 30 seconds.

Remember: Trademarks must be defended. If you do not complain *every single time* someone uses your valid trademark without permission, you risk losing the trademark entirely, because it loses distinctiveness. Xerox and Band-Aid are both fighting rearguard actions to try to prevent their names becoming generic, and the only reason the courts have allowed those trademarks to stand is that they do fight every time someone uses those words as generic words in the press. They still may lose, but they're still filing, so the courts aren't willing to declare that they are indifferent to violation.

If you don't object, you risk a court saying "you are indifferent to a violation" and that ends the distinctiveness, and you lose the trademark. So, trademark holders who want to keep them *defend every single time*.
posted by eriko at 10:25 AM on June 2 [11 favorites]


6) He's also trademarked "I<3" (I heart/love). We'll see how that works out for him.

It's a bold strategy, Legomancer.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:26 AM on June 2


I wonder how many חַי got taken down with the π.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:26 AM on June 2


Some folks have asked me what I think Ingrisano's endgame was here. I wonder more if the lawyer had an endgame, that of "Do ridiculous bullshit and bill Paul Ingrisano for it."
posted by Legomancer at 10:30 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: contempt of Joe Blow, Esq.
posted by atbash at 10:31 AM on June 2


Beer tart?

OK, here's a funny, at the end of that recipe: "DISCLAIMER(c) Copyright 1996 - SelecTV Cable Limited. All rights reserved. Carlton Food Network" Since the Carlton Food Network has been defunct since 2001, not sure who is protecting that particular copyright now.
posted by PandaMomentum at 10:34 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


You don't have to register a trademark with the USPTO in order to own the trademark. Using the mark means you have a trademark in it, just as writing something means you have a copyright. It's only patents that must be filed to be created. There is no "prior art" in the sense that once someone uses the mark it becomes un-trademarkable forever, its only unavailable as long as someone is using it and the first person to use it is the owner as long as they keep using it, although there are advantages to registration.

So in your scenario even if McDonald's never registered the trademark they would still be able to object to Taco Bell trying to register or use it. In fact Taco Bell would probably hire a company to do a search before they registered it to make sure no one else was using it. McDonald's would owns the trademark so long as they're using it and the public associates them with the mark.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 10:37 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


You can't exactly copyright a recipe, only the very specific iteration of it you've published. Change one thing (for example why the fuck would you use a lager instead of something already built for dessert like a porter or something), and the copyright no longer applies AFAIK.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:38 AM on June 2


I am now trademarking "!!" as well as "!!!", "!!!!", "!!!!!", and "!!!!!!". Next: ending one of my pet peeves forever.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:40 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


What???
posted by peeedro at 10:43 AM on June 2


I am now trademarking "!!" as well as "!!!"

Prior art.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:44 AM on June 2


Zing.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:45 AM on June 2


I stopped using "Cafe Press" because of bullshit like this, and then I stopped using all these services, mainly because no one wants to pay 4x the cost of a similar item and hear you whine about how little of that money goes into your own pocket.
posted by maxwelton at 10:53 AM on June 2


Pater Aletheias: I am now trademarking "!!" as well as "!!!"

Sys Rq: Prior art.

feckless fecal fear mongering: Zing.

I think you mean ChikChikChik
...
Mate.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:55 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


Since no-one is prosecuting the rampant perjury, Zazzle (and Youtube and the like) should adopt policy that charges a fee when spurious claims are later found to be "overreach" (polite term for "complete bullshit"). Fee is payable before further claims can be lodged.
posted by anonymisc at 11:08 AM on June 2


Perhaps the confusion is the result of the foolish English teacher requirement that periods be absorbed into quotes?

Perhaps the takedown said: We have a trademark on "π."

The problem would have been avoided if we all just treated quotation marks as unbreachable firewalls: We have a trademark on "π.".
posted by HappyEngineer at 11:13 AM on June 2 [7 favorites]


1. Trademark question mark symbol.
2. ???
3. Profit.


I assume this is how The Riddler funds his crimes.
posted by maryr at 12:30 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I mean straight up beer pie. Or savoury tarts. Like a beer butter tart. Or something.


Use trotter gear instead of sugar and egg as a binder.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:36 PM on June 2


I assume this is how The Riddler funds his crimes.

I seem to recall that there was a classic 50's Batman story where the Joker patented the alphabet, but lately my brain has been inventing stuff.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:43 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I am sad that the universally accepted response to patent trolls is not yet "drag them out into the town square and stuff them into a box full of wasps which everyone present is given the opportunity to whack with a large stick".
posted by elizardbits at 12:53 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]


Well, that's needlessly cruel. Those poor wasps don't deserve such treatment.
posted by RobotHero at 1:51 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


You're thinking about honey bees. I can think of a few wasps that earned a spot in the barrel. Two birds with one stone. :)
posted by anonymisc at 2:05 PM on June 2


Since no-one is prosecuting the rampant perjury

There's no perjury involved here. No one is under oath. This incident is just about a letter being sent. You can send messages with false content to anyone you want, though I could imagine some causes of action if you were knowingly sending false takedown notices to intimidate various sites.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:19 PM on June 2


This thread is an absolute clusterfuck. Seriously, guys, a whole bunch of you need to go and read about the differences between patent, trade mark, and copyright protection. There's a lot of fair criticism of intellectual property, but this is not an example of it.

But let's look at how we got here and why intellectual property law often leads to absurdities. If you already know about trade marks you can skip to the last bit.

An outrageously simplified introduction to trade marks
A trade mark at its most simple is a sign used by someone in relation to their goods and services. It could be a word or a picture or a sound (or anything else, really, use your imagination). So that's nice. But who cares?

There's nothing particular special about a sign used as a trade mark. The trade mark "apple" is no different from the word "apple". You can't easily stop me from saying the word "apple", or writing it on the side of my car. It doesn't look like something you can own. It doesn't look like "property".

There are lot of attributes we generally associate with the idea property - things like control (I have control of my shoes/house/business) and alienability (I can see my shoes/house/business) and exclusivity (Nobody else can use my shoes/house/business). On the face of it a trade mark has none of those things.

But people want goods and services and other people want to produce and sell goods and services. And the former want to be able to identify the source of those goods and services because they are discerning and cautious and don't want to eat (drink?) sub-standard soup. And the latter want discerning and cautious people to buy their goods and services instead of someone else's, and to make that happen they probably need to spend money on making their goods and services better (or at least more appealing to discerning and cautious people). And that's something trade marks are useful for - they communicate source.

Trade marks still don't look a lot like property, but now we can identify some things that could be worth protecting: buyer confidence and seller investment. And so legislatures passed laws to protect trade marks.

Why trade mark law (actually any law) sometimes leads to absurdities
Law is lazy. If legislatures or courts can find an existing legal framework that's vaguely applicable to a new situation they'll use it. This means we don't need to spend time learning completely new legal frameworks every time we encounter a new situation. This is a good thing generally.

And it works because people are good at analogies. They understand vaguely what it means to wrong someone or own something. They understand vaguely what it means to create something or buy and sell something. It's not a big conceptual leap to say "Oh hey, people, you know how there's a thing called property? And you know how property works, right? Well, look, see this other thing over here? That's now property, too, but only sometimes."

And that's what they did. And it's mostly fine. But there's a problem.

Trade marks aren't the same as shoes or houses or businesses. We don't use shoes or houses or businesses hundreds of times a day to communicate with each other. We generally don't use shoes or houses or businesses to describe goods or services. Crystallising property rights around those things isn't such a big deal. When you stop people from using words or symbols it pisses people off.

But the point I'm trying to make here is that it's the abstraction that's the unavoidable problem here. There is a fundamental difference between the legal concept of a trade mark as property and the physical and historical reality of use of a word or picture in relation to your goods and services. You can't put a fence around a trade mark.

It's this gap that makes the law an approximation of reality. The map is not the territory.

Why none of that is actually relevant to this particular case, which is actually about an asshole with what appears to be a legitimate registered trade mark writing a letter to a naive company selling t-shirts with a symbol that happens to be the same as his registered trade mark and this heading is getting difficult to read
Basically there's a good argument that using someone else's trade mark on a t-shirt can be fine sometimes. It won't be fine when your use of the mark could confuse consumers as to the source of the t-shirt, e.g. selling a t-shirt with a Nike logo, but if it's a design that uses a common mathematical symbol and there's no real chance of people being confused it's probably going to be fine. This guy only has limited protection of the use of his trade mark in a narrow range of economic situations.

The issue here isn't that there's anything particularly wrong with trade mark law, it's that this guy probably overreached a little bit with his letter and the t-shirt company overreacted.

So, uh, shut up.
posted by ddd at 3:26 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


Someone trademark chi!

Seriously. Explain to me how this isn't a failure of general education. Everyone makes a big deal of a university education, and yet a great number of folks can't recognize a /letter/
posted by clvrmnky at 4:04 PM on June 2


The issue here isn't that there's anything particularly wrong with trade mark law, it's that this guy probably overreached a little bit with his letter and the t-shirt company overreacted.

That's exactly what some folks upthread have been saying. Maybe not so much with the shut up next time?
posted by mediareport at 5:32 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


I have just trademarked "Cease And Desist" as the name of my new company and will be sending out "CUT IT OUT" letters tomorrow to every "intellectual property lawyer" in the U.S.ofA. ...this is gonna be fun!
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:04 PM on June 2


There's also a great episode of the Animated Series where Joker copyrights fish. Because they have his face on them, due to a toxin he dumped in the water because he is the Joker.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 8:22 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


The deal with Zazzle is that yeah, they'll take down your thing without legitimate reason or giving you any response or recourse, but then you can pretty much put it back up again and they mostly don't really seem to notice.
posted by limeonaire at 8:47 PM on June 2


will be sending out "CUT IT OUT" letters tomorrow

Dave Coulier would like a word with you. Three of them, in fact. And some gestures.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:48 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


He oughta know.
posted by maryr at 10:43 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


In other trademark nonsense, The Mormon church is trying to block a dating site from being named "Mormon Match". Which just raises the question, where were their lawyers when "Book of Mormon" was on Broadway?
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:56 PM on June 3


The church actually likes the Book of Mormon. They advertise in the playbills.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:41 PM on June 6


USTR's Anti-Transparency Rules For TAFTA/TTIP Documents Published
posted by jeffburdges at 3:12 AM on June 20


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