This Guy Trademarked The Symbol For Pi And Took Away Our Geeky T-Shirts
Professor Mark Lemley weighs in on the an attempt to trademark the "pi" symbol for Wired.
This may be the biggest legal controversy to engulf the mathematical constant pi since that time in 1897 when the Indiana legislature tried to declare it equal to 3.2: A Brooklyn artist is claiming a broad trademark in T-shirts, jackets, caps, and other apparel featuring the Greek letter, resulting in the mass, temporary removal of thousands of products from the custom t-shirt printing site Zazzle.
At issue is U.S. trademark registration 4,473,631, issued to one Paul Ingrisano, aka “Pi Productions Corp” of New York. In January, the U.S. 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.
But Stanford law professor Mark Lemley says Millet is trying to square a circle. A trademark is supposed to be used to brand a company and its products. “If you want to sell T-shirts and on the tag your brand name is the symbol pi, I think that’s a reasonable trademark,” he says. “But if what you want to do is actually prevent people from using the symbol pi on a T-shirt, then I think you’re missing the point of trademark law.”