I received an interesting email from Zazzle overnight.
Zazzle are a print-on-demand website where you can upload your designs and sell T-shirts, mugs, phone cases, you name it, with your design on.
The email informed me that:
the mathematical symbol “pi” is a registered trademark, U.S. Registration No. 4473631.and that:
we will be removing all products in your store with the mathematical symbol “pi” as it relates to the goods registered for this trademark.I'm still pinching myself trying to confirm this is real and not some twisted dream.
Firstly I'm stunned anyone at Zazzle let this claim pass. You can't trademark a mathetmatical symbol. Pi in particular is a greek symbol (π) and has been around for millennia. You can't even trademark the use of pi in particular places, like clothing.
Secondly, I dug a bit deeper, because nonsense like this deserves it. And I ended up emailing Zazzle back and schooling them in how trademarks work, which is quite surprising because you'd expect them to know a lot more than me.
"U.S. Registration No. 4473631" can be looked up, thanks to the internet:
A very, very quick look shows:
- "Illustration: Drawing with word(s)/letter(s)/number(s) in Stylized form Typeset"
i.e. not the mathematical symbol itself, but a logo which incorporates the mathematical symbol pi.
This would be like McDonalds claiming the letter M as a trademark. The trademark is in the combination of style and symbol, not the symbol itself.
- "The mark consists of the pi mathematical symbol followed by a period." [i.e. full stop]
My use of the generic mathematical symbol pi does not actually include a period.
The trademarks website above usually displays the trademark in question (e.g. McDonalds here), but for U.S. Registration No. 4473631, there is just an image of the letters "PI". A different trademark website here does show an image with the pi symbol with a period.
So not only did Zazzle simply take it on face value that the mathematical symbol pi has been trademarked (!!!). That's bad enough.
There is someone out there who has claimed copyright ownership of the symbol pi who is actively trying to shut down anyone who has used it.
I wonder how many other people have been on the receiving end of this bullshit?
While the email mentioned a company called "Pi Productions Corp.", the trademark listing above shows the owner to be a guy called Paul Ingrisano, whose LinkedIn shows he is "Owner at Pi apparels".
Searching for "Pi apparels" doesn't reveal very much, but searching for Paul Ingrisano does - he has this profile on Facebook, which has a pi-related cover image and shows he works at "Pi Production" who have this Facebook page here. Interestingly there is no website link and no links to any apparel, with or without the pi logo.
None of this changes the fraudulent and ridiculous nature of the trademark infringement claim, but it helps give me a picture of who and why and what is going on. Not only is the claim ridiculous, but having identified the claimant, I can't see any reason they would even have a case.
So along with directly requesting Zazzle to kindly, please, not remove my designs from their website, I would ask them some questions:
- How many human beings looked at this claim? The claims process for infringements can't be fully automatic - it needs at least one human to verify good claims from bad ones.
- Why did someone accept, at face value, that "the mathematical symbol “pi” is a registered trademark"?
- Why didn't they actually look at the registered trademark, which would have confirmed that the trademark in question refers to a specific logo which uses the pi symbol, and not the pi symbol itself? (which is logical in itself)
- Why are you helping frauds like Paul Ingrisano who claim to have registered a generic mathematical symbol?
They may or may not read this, but it helps me a little bit to write it down and dump it on the internet.
I'm certainly looking forward to their email response.
In case you're interested in my rather lovely pi (and pie) T-shirt designs, you can find them here on Redbubble.
[This story has 2 updates: when things got worse, and when Zazzle reinstated all pi-related designs.]