Have Your Pi and Trademark it Too

June 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

A Brooklyn artist recently upset geeks and t-shirt merchants with a recently approved federal trademark registration on a 3,000-year-old Greek symbol.

In late 2012 Paul Ingrisano applied for a federal trademark registration for the Pi symbol followed by a period in connection to “athletic apparel, namely shirts, pants, jackets, footwear, hat and caps, [and] athletic uniforms.” After correcting some minor errors with the application he successfully obtained a registration for the mark in early 2014.

Within months of obtaining the registration, Ingrisano began enforcing his newly acquired rights. His first big target was Zazzle.com, a website where users can sell goods like shirts and mugs featuring designs created by the users.

In his cease and desist demand letter Ingrisano’s lawyer makes the case that the sale of apparel on Zazzle.com featuring the Pi symbol is likely to confuse consumers as to the source of the goods being sold (the essential element of proving trademark infringement). The letter then goes on to make multiple demands regarding inventory, evidence of sales, and various accountings.

Zazzle’s initial reaction was to remove all potentially infringing materials for fear it might be indirectly liable as the middleman between the creators of the potentially infringing goods and the end consumers. However after receiving complaints from the creators, a Zazzle representative told cnet.com “After reviewing the takedown request more closely, Zazzle has decided to restore the ‘Pi’ products. Zazzle is a marketplace for a community of artists, and we want to continue to support artists who are creating original artwork.”

Zazzle didn’t elaborate further, but several things in the cease and desist letter seemed a bit off. First, the letter requests Zazzle cease and desist all “copyright infringement” when the matter at hand is a trademark. Remember, copyrights tend to protect creative works while trademarks tend to protect names and slogans.

Second, it is unclear if Ingrisano is seeking to prevent others from using the Pi mark or the Pi mark plus a period. The essential question is whether consumers purchasing goods on Zazzle would be confused as to the source of the goods and believe they were coming from Ingrisano when, in fact, they were not. That raises the question as to the importance of the period in the Pi registration – a question that would likely have to be decided by a jury.

This registration and Ingrisano’s attempt to protect the Pi symbol with a period will undoubtedly raise many eyebrows in the coming months and years and we’ll let you know when new developments arise.

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Image Credit: uspto.gov

*This article is very general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Readers with legal questions should consult with an attorney prior to making any legal decisions.

 

 

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