Zazzle Thinks Someone Owns the Mathematical Symbol “pi”.

I’m a creative genius, so I periodically have designed t-shirts that nobody buys. For a while I was creating them on Zazzle, one of many print-on demand sites for shirts, mugs, and other printable stuff.

Yesterday I got a notice that one of my items was being removed due to trademark infringement. Here’s the notice.

Product Title: Pi Plus E
Product Type: zazzle_shirt
Product ID: 235431350048746956
Result: Not Approved
Policy Notes: Your product has been removed due to an infringement claim from Pi Productions Corp. The mathematical symbol “pi” is a registered trademark, U.S. Registration No. 4473631. For more information on the trademark, please visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office at: http://www.uspto.gov/.

Here’s the design in question:

Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Zazzle is claiming that the mathematical symbol pi is trademarked. Or rather, it’s saying that someone told them it’s a registered trademark and they believed them.

Pi is an irrational constant in mathematics. It’s the name given to the ratio of a circle’s diameter to its circumference. It’s denoted by the Greek letter “pi”. This symbol is used in every mathematical text and paper involving this ratio, and has been since at least 1706. Of course, the Greeks uses the symbol as a letter in their alphabet long before that.

And now someone’s claiming they’ve trademarked it and no one else can use it? That’s like trademarking the number three, or hell, the e in the design, which is another mathematical concept. It’s clearly absurd to anyone except, I guess, Zazzle.

So who is claiming this trademark? Something called “Pi Productions Corp.”, run by Paul Ingrisano. A fellow named Jez Kemp, who received a similar takedown notice, poked around and found not a whole lot. But he found the actual trademark registration, which you can see here. Here’s the relevant portion:

Description of Mark: The mark consists of the pi mathematical symbol followed by a period.

This makes a little more sense. As Jez points out, McDonald’s can trademark a letter M of a certain design. This does not give it ownership of every instance of the letter M, however.

I wrote back to Zazzle with the following:

Even if this claim wasn’t absurd, my design does not violate it. The specific trademark is phrased as, “The mark consists of the pi mathematical symbol followed by a period.” (source: http://www.trademarkia.com/pi-85785006.html ). My design does not have a period following the pi symbol. Neither do other designs targeted by this guy, such as here: http://jezkemp.blogspot.com/2014/05/some-loser-has-tried-to-trademark.html. This bozo does not own the trademark on the mathematical symbol for pi, as he is claiming, and making you look like fools for enforcing.

Their response:

We’re sorry to hear that your product was removed due to an infringement claim. Unfortunately, we were contacted by the legal representatives for Pi Production Corp. with regards to the trademark for the mathematical symbol of “Pi” on clothing items. Attached is a copy of the trademark certificate from the United States Patent and Trademark Office for your review.

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.

Now this was maddening. I tried again.

Did you read my response or your original note? The trademark this guy has is for a specific usage of the pi symbol. This is his filing:

http://www.trademarkia.com/pi-85785006.html

It specifically describes his mark as, “The mark consists of the pi mathematical symbol followed by a period.”

My design does not have a period after the pi. It is not in violation. He does not own trademark on every usage of a pi symbol. That would be absurd.

And once more:

Thank you for your e-mail to Zazzle.com.

Unfortunately, due to intellectual property claim by the Pi Production Corp, we are unable to carry or produce any products which infringe upon their rights.

This is asinine. Zazzle gave me instructions on how to file a counter-notice, and I plan to. Not because I really care about the dumb design, but because this is ridiculous asshattery that shouldn’t be allowed to continue. I’m not alone, either. Other people affected by this nonsense are also taking action. Zazzle has a forum where plenty of sellers are baffled, and other blog posts are popping up.

I really would love to see the message that Zazzle received originally about this. I want to know at what point someone honestly thought Paul Ingrisano owned the mathematical symbol of pi in any form. Was it him? Some idiot cheap lawyer he found? Some idiot pretending to be a lawyer? Zazzle itself? At any rate, no, pi is for everyone. You can’t take all the pi.

UPDATE! It gets better (more stupid). Someone in the thread linked above got a new response from Zazzle:

You are correct in the description of the registered trademark as having a period. However, representatives of PI 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.

Due to this takedown notice, Zazzle as an online service provider is required to comply as failure to respond may result in willful infringement for this trademark.

This makes it pretty clear the source of the inanity is Ingrisano. Also clear that counter-noticing Zazzle won’t do anything, since they’re too chickenshit to tell this idiot to get bent.

UPDATE! Jez Kemp has more.

FINAL (I hope) UPDATE! Zazzle has decided against Ingrisano and reinstated the pi designs.

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