Artist Who Trademarked Pi Symbol Has Designs on “I<3"
Paul Ingrisano fought Reebok for exclusive rights to "I<3" merchandise.
The Internet definitely does not <3 Paul Ingrisano right now. The Brooklyn street artist and craft entrepreneur has enraged aspiring designers and math nuts alike with a seemingly overbearing trademark claim on the mathematical symbol for pi, “π.” “In January, the US Patent and Trademark Office gave Ingrisano a trademark on the symbol π.—pi followed by a period—a design Ingrisano uses on T-shirts sold at some brick-and-mortar stores,” Wired reports in a piece on the fracas. On May 16, Ingrisano then went on to have his lawyer draw up a “strongly worded cease-and-desist letter” to on-demand T-shirt website Zazzle, causing thousands of designers marketing π-themed paraphernalia to be banned as confusingly similar to Ingrisano’s “π.,” while the company worked to evaluate the complaint. Many designers who protested that their work was not identical to the trademarked symbol received a form email from Zazzle that read in part:
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.
This has not gone down well. Facing outrage, Zazzle recently reversed its position, allowing the Pi to be shared.
How ridiculous is this story? A quick search turns up Ingrisano’s Pi Productions website. Among his own custom T-shirts for sale is one that appropriates Verizon’s logo, stating “InvaZion” instead of “VeriZon;” a riff on the Dunkin’ Donuts logo in unmistakable orange and pink bubble letters that says “FUCKIN’ GONUTS;” a shirt that makes the slightly inscrutable proclamation “START WARS” in the 1970s block letters of Star Wars; and a black-and-white image of a Hassidic man’s face, in the style of Shepard Fairey’s Andre the Giant-themed “OBEY” campaign, but saying “OYVEY” instead (with Ingrisano’s trademarked “π.” logo in the corner). These designs are as witless as they are harmless (though the Hassidic cartoon verges on caricature). But they definitively don’t suggest any great love for the sacredness of trademarked imagery.
A little more googling turns up something else: Ingrisano’s year-long fight with international shoe behemoth Reebok over another familiar symbol, “I<3” (that translates to “I love,” for those who don’t speak Internet). Back in 2011, Ingrisano filed for a trademark on a stylized version of “I<3,” which was “published for opposition” in June 2013. Reebok’s intellectual property watchdogs claimed in a December 14, 2013 “Notice of Opposition” that “I<3” is too close to comfort to its own “I3” trademark, used on a line of Allen Iverson sneakers and apparel that fetches high prices on eBay more than a decade later. The Notice explained: “Applicant’s Mark so resembles the registered Reebok I3 Mark as to be likely, when used on or in connection with the goods of the Applicant, to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or deceive.”
Rather than taking a lesson from the ridiculousness of this legal tussle, it seems that Ingrisano, in his efforts to enforce a monopoly on “π,” styles himself as a mini-Reebok. On May 14, 2014—just two days before firing off that letter to Zazzle—he came to a deal with Reebok, allowing his trademark on “I<3” to go forward, placating the company by adding language to his trademark claim that simply excluded it from consideration in relation to “special-purpose basketball apparel.” Ingrisano, however, reserves intellectual ownership over uses of the symbol on all other “athletic apparel,” including, according to the resolution, shirts, pants, and bandanas, but also boxers, boy shorts, g-strings, and thongs.
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