How Not to Use a Trademark: Zazzle Says No Pi

May 29, 2014 at 7:33 am 12 comments

Huh, two blog posts from me in a span of 30 hours – yeah, that’s totally rare. But I wanted to write about an experience I had tonight and some disappointment I have in Zazzle right now.

Originally, I was going to take a much needed night off after all the prep for FanimeCon that had happened in the weeks prior. I went in to check my business email to make sure there was nothing pressing and saw a message from Zazzle’s content review team telling me that one of my designs was infringing on a trademark. I am very careful about trademarks as I have a registered one myself and yeah, no one likes to put in hard work on something only to end up on the wrong end of a cease and desist.

The offending image was my ‘I Like Pi’ design, pictured here.

Kimchi Kawaii pi pun design.

Kimchi Kawaii pi pun design.

Apparently, Pi Productions Corp. notified Zazzle that they own the exclusive trademark on the symbol pi and demanded all apparel be taken down immediately. Zazzle complied and began to remove sellers’ designs off their site and sending out the email notifications. And that’s when their forums went crazy.

They supplied the trademark filing number in the email and a search of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) shows that yes, this company does have a trademark on file for pi. BUT – ‘The mark consists of the pi mathematical symbol followed by a period’ (copied and pasted from the USPTO’s site).

Trademarks are pretty specific as they are identifiers of a brand. Usually, an application goes through a pretty lengthy process of approval to make sure it is not too similar to another mark out there, so I’m a bit baffled as to how this one got through because it just seems too common and vague to really stand out as a distinctive mark. Granted, trademark law is a rather murky, confusing ocean to swim in and I’m not an IP lawyer, but it still seems a bit…wrong.

And what’s really grand about the whole thing, this guy has no product that anyone can find. So right now, he just looks like he’s being a squatter, like those people who go in and buy up domain names and then offer to sell them to people who actually want to use the URL for a legit business other than just being greedy.

Which in my opinion makes him a bit of a jerk.

The pi symbol seen so often in math books is a Greek letter. As far as I know, you can’t trademark a letter. As many people have said in the forums, that would be like McDonald’s saying they own the letter ‘M’ and banning everyone from using it. McDonald’s does use the ‘M’ as a trademark, but it’s a specific style, those golden arches everyone loves or hates, not just the letter itself.

What is really disappointing is that Zazzle has started to universally pull all designs with the pi symbol in it. I don’t know about you, but most of us don’t couple the symbol with the period as indicated in the trademark file so Zazzle doesn’t really have any grounds to be doing this. So are they going to pull or ban Greek organizations like fraternities or sororities from making shirts on their site if they have pi in their letters?

Sure, the guy filed the infringement claim with Zazzle, but you would think that a big company like Zazzle would also have a team of IP experts who could really assess if this is a legit claim or not. If there aren’t any checkpoints in place or someone saying ‘Hold up, this sounds a bit iffy’, really, what’s to protect sellers from the next person who comes through and says they own exclusive rights to say, the number 10?

Zazzlers’ are pretty frustrated right now and I agree. Granted some of the designs were mostly text based, but I’m sure some, like mine have some design elements that required a lot more time in creation than just figuring out how to type π on your keyboard (that’s option+p for you Mac people, lol). So the design work is erased. The time spent loading it into the shop is also gone. The time promoting it has turned into nothing. And something that a lot of people are forgetting about – if your design is an older one, you’re losing all that link history that’s built up and could have been directing traffic to your site and hopefully sales.

A few months ago, I went through and started a clean up of my shop – deleting older designs that were done in my rather newbie Illustrator phase. Kimchi Kawaii has been around for over 5 years now, so there’s definitely been improvement. I wanted to remove clutter and make the shop more easy to get around for customers. I work a full time job meaning I do my business work in the evenings so that night, I only deleted a small handful. It’s a good thing I didn’t have a ton of time!

Sales with my Zazzle shop had been going pretty well and growing each year. Shortly after my initial declutter, they started to taper off and stagnate. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong until something in the back of my head said ‘link history, u ruined it’. I asked my web designer if that was something legit or just a myth and he kinda looked at me like I had killed a puppy. I think he really wanted to face palm, but is too polite to do so. But yes, he said, in a few clicks, I had erased some of my oldest link histories and yes, that was most likely the reason traffic (and sales) had slowed to a crawl. He made me promise to not get that itchy delete finger again.

All this to say, my pi design was one of my older ones that I actually liked and now Zazzle has taken the shirt option away and all it’s link history. As far as I can tell, they are not reinstating peoples’ designs, instead telling everyone they can file a counter claim which honestly, how many of us have the resources to do that? One of the few saving graces is that Pi Productions only filed for a trademark in the apparel category so they can’t really touch my other stuff like mugs, laptop cases, etc., but shirts are usually my best selling items so yeah, not a happy camper.

I really hope that Zazzle reviews their policies on infringement claims and doesn’t do this knee jerk removal of all things related. I know that they are protecting their butts from a trademark/copyright suit, but they are also running the risk of angering their users which generate the content that brings in the money for them. What if enough users decide that they are suffering enough financial loss to file a suit of their own? A little fact checking and careful examination could have saved everyone a lot of headache and resentment.

Bad form, Zazzle. Bad form.

P.S. – ironically, this all comes just after I had scheduled my review of Zazzle for my print on demand series which will post on Tuesday, June 3rd. I still like their design tools and all, but this has put a bit of a dent into my warm feelings towards them.

P.P.S. – I heard in the forums that this guy is also demanding a sweep of Cafe Press, the other big print on demand site. Ugh.



Entry filed under: Informational. Tags: , , , , .

Anime Con Review: Fanime 2014 First Dealers Hall! The Pi Trademark Zazzle Follow Up

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jezkemp  |  May 29, 2014 at 8:20 am

    Thanks for your blog post. You’ve clearly had a good look at this and know there are a lot of angry people affected by this ridiculous and fraudulent claim. While Paul Ingrisano is clearly being a opportunistic pirate, Zazzle are clearly to blame for accepting this kind of fraudulent claim, which print-on-demand sites must be bombarded by on a regular basis. Any sane person would know that you cannot trademark a mathematical symbol, without even having to look it up, which apparently they didn’t.
    I’m hoping it makes the mainstream internet science/geek sites, because this whole thing stinks and sets a terrifying precedent.
    My own blog post, with multiplying comments, written 24hrs ago:

    • 2. kimchikawaii  |  May 29, 2014 at 3:25 pm

      Yes, both Paul and Zazzle are to blame here. I know that Zazzle and other like sites are getting claims in the hundreds, probably per day, but that doesn’t mean they can take the lazy way out which is what they are doing here by just removing all things. I’m keeping an eye on my shop and if they start to remove my other pi items which don’t fall under the trademark category, I’m going to really be upset.

      I actually stumbled across your blog post first and it inspired me to write my own. I figure the more the merrier to get this seen cause yeah, if no one says anything, it’s just going to keep happening.

  • […] nonsense are also taking action. Zazzle has a forum where plenty of sellers are baffled, and other blog posts are popping […]

  • 4. Hannah Sterry  |  May 29, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    I’ve had exactly the same problem! I’m just glad that zazzle isn’t the only online shop I sell my cartoons on. Hope they sort it out soon!

    • 5. kimchikawaii  |  May 31, 2014 at 7:47 pm

      Looks like they listened to what I’m guessing was a flood of complaints and are putting our pi designs back into the shops. 🙂

  • 6. Jenny  |  May 29, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    Oh my, yours is the second blog I found and wow, your graphic isn’t even CLOSE to his.

    I had two images removed.
    You can see them both here.

    I was informed by zazzle that…
    Productions Corp. is exercising their rights to protect
    their mark by not only restricting the use of their
    trademark, but also any similar marks that is likely to
    result in consumer confusion as part of the Lanham Act.

    Similar???? So… anyone with a DOT on an image might be considered “similar?”

    His registration page here

    CLEARLY states the stylized graphic is followed by a period.

    Mine has none. But it seems this guy only has to submit take down requests and make everyones life hell.

    Well…. folks, you can follow zazzles instructions and send them back all the info they request. It’s a pain, hoops to jump, but do it.
    They then have to forward it all back to this guy.
    Lets flood the putz with his own take downs. IT’s a start.

    This is BS!

    I can’t even find a single design or item that this company supposedly makes. And google earth shows the address as a dumpy little brick house in NY. I think the only thing this “company” does it ruin other peoples lives.

    We need a class action on this one. Badly.

    • 7. kimchikawaii  |  May 31, 2014 at 7:50 pm

      Yeah, the fact that he doesn’t even have any product to show was one of the things that really rubbed me and a lot of other people wrong – that this person was just filing this thing to pretty much be a jerk.

      At least Zazzle recanted and everyone is getting their pi back, but really, it shouldn’t have been an issue to begin with.

  • 8. JPG  |  May 29, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    “Π” is for ποτάμι,
    “P” is for pit.
    This guy trademarks letters?
    He’s quite the dipshit.

    You can trademark a specifically stylized version of an existing and commonly used letter or glyph, but not the letter itself.

    Paul Ingrisano is either a jerk or an idiot. Take your pick, Paul – if you’re taking this seriously, you’re one or the other. (In light of your frivolously litigious behavior, I do hope you make a similar mistake with regard to the definition of libel, and try to sue – the countersuit for wasting my time and the court’s would be fun and lucrative.)

    I’ve got no horse in this race – never used Zazzle, never heard of Ingrisano, just read about this π fiasco today – I simply get annoyed by idiots doing what idiots do.

    Incidentally, perhaps I’ll trademark the phrase “Paul Ingrisano is either a jerk or an idiot” – but I’d plan to explicitly offer universal, open rights to reproduce it, royalty-free, without any request necessary.

    • 9. kimchikawaii  |  May 31, 2014 at 7:51 pm

      LOL, love the little poem there at the beginning. And I think he’s both a jerk AND an idiot – which are kind of the worst kinds in my opinion. I would probably have been more understanding (by a tiny bit) if he actually had product actively selling that he could show was losing money due to all the other pi designs. But he didn’t and just wanted to garner the pi corner for himself.

  • […] How Not to Use a Trademark: Zazzle Says No Pi […]

  • 11. Vivendulies  |  May 30, 2014 at 4:29 am

    I’m more successful with my pi-related shirts on direct zazzle competitors anyhow and most of them exercised more consideration in previous comparable incidents. All print on demand services had to pull legitimate designs due to trademark claims since court ruling didn’t keep up with todays T-shirt culture but usually it is at least imaginable that a confusion with the trademark might occure. The trouble with zazzles action is, that with most of the deleted works like yours the confusion is just not imaginable and thereby lacks any grounds for infringing the trademark in question.

    This is what makes it so outrages and why the blame mainly lies with zazzle.

    My blogpost on the subject is here

    • 12. kimchikawaii  |  May 31, 2014 at 7:53 pm

      Exactly. And you would think that a big company like them would actually have guidelines and a good IP team to look over claims cause shirts is a large part of what they do. I think the whole sweeping deletion of the products was what really irked everyone the most.

      At least they’ve re-examined the whole thing and are putting our designs back.


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