Friday, 30 May 2014

This guy just stole pi, and Zazzle helped him do it.

[Edit 30/05 10:00am AEST: It seems Zazzle have listened to reason and are reinstating products. Here's my update.]

Designers are in uproar and filing counter notices after print company Zazzle upheld a man's claim to own the pi symbol on clothing.

Paul Ingrisano, a pirate living in Brooklyn New York, filed a trademark under "Pi Productions" for a logo which consists of this freely available version of the pi symbol π from the Wikimedia website combined with a period (full stop). The conditions of the trademark specifically state that the trademark includes a period.

The Pirate Who Stole Pi

The trademark was granted in January 2014 and Ingrisano has recently made trademark infringement claims against a massive range of pi-related designs on print-on-demand websites including Zazzle and Cafepress.

The Wikimedia Commons pi symbol
Surprisingly, Zazzle accepted his claim and removed thousands of clothing products using this design, emailing designers that their work was infringing Pi Productions' intellectual property - even designs not using a full stop.

At first Zazzle's Content Review team responded to their very angry designers and store keepers with generic emails, suggesting they file counter notices if they felt aggrieved.

But now Zazzle's latest response is that they are acting to protect Paul Ingrisano's "intellectual property" from "confusingly similar" designs as under the Lanham Act 1946 - including designs which do not even contain the pi symbol, but just the word "pi" in their design name.

Pi Productions' "trademark"
Zazzle have locked a public forum thread where angry designers were demanding explanations and discussing legal action, saying they removed apparel designs while they "evaluate the complaint".


There are huge implications for designers and individuals across the planet. If Zazzle wash their hands and accept one man's claim to own the rights to all use of an ancient greek letter and generic mathematical symbol on clothing, it sets a precedent for other websites and companies to do the same.

The story bears similarity to the Sweet Pea trademark case where a $16 million lawsuit was filed against 52 small independent retailers, claiming the phrase "sweet pea" was a trademark. The defendants won the case, highlighting how trademark law can be abused.

Obviously companies like Zazzle have to take trademark infringement claims very seriously.

But if they really did take it seriously, wouldn't they realise how spurious and fraudulent claiming a mathematical symbol is?

These frauds want to dictate what you can wear

Paul Ingrisano's next target: "I <3"
Currently "published for opposition"
Pirates like Ingrisano operate exactly like pirates of the old days: taking opportunities to steal and scaring people into giving them what they want. His latest trademark application is a stylised version of "I <3", a commonly-used text expression on the internet and T-shirt designs. If granted he will no doubt use it to threaten print-on-demand sites and take down another whole fleet of legitimate designs.

Even if Ingrisano had any basis to his Zazzle claim, he is not actually selling any products with this logo. The only one on the entire internet is this skull picture on his Etsy account. [Edit: Despite looking pretty thoroughly, I couldn't find Pi Productions' online store. Thanks to Artnet who found it with "a quick search".]

He is not a legitimate business concerned about his property - he is a pirate out to bully and disrupt legitimate designers.

But while Ingrisano is a pirate, Zazzle are in the position of having made a monumental screw-up - and are working their hardest to justify their mistake, instead of admitting they made one.

Minimum human judgement

Print-on-demand websites are bombarded by these fraudulent claims every day, and most are rightly dismissed. But sites like Zazzle are so terrified of lawsuits, they often automate their content review process. The Cafepress upload system will not even publish any designs referencing intellectual property like Lord Of The Rings or Star Wars.

This means real human judgement is reduced to a bare minimum. And with an army of frauds like Ingrisano firing constant claims, it was a matter of time before a company made a poor judgement out of fear - even despite the clear and obvious fact you cannot trademark a generic symbol or letter.

That company is Zazzle, and instead of admitting their error, they are helping Ingrisano steal pi.

Furious reaction

Some furious designers have already filed counter-notices, which - if not responded to within 14 days - mean Zazzle must reinstate the designs.

And some are discussing class action lawsuit to recover lost earnings. Every day these legitimate designs are offline is lost income for dozens, even hundreds, of small independent designers on Zazzle.

Angry blog posts and tweets are appearing from people who are infuriated that Zazzle would bow down to to such an obviously unjustified trademark claim.

And it doesn't just affect designers - the implications affect scientists, mathematicians, classrooms, college fraternities.

With something as generic and as popular as the pi symbol - which has its own day on 14th March - it's quite possible this issue will hit sites like Reddit and io9 and I F**king Love Science, and from there up to the mainstream news channels. If it does, Zazzle will be shown to be very stupid, and there'll be a lot more angry people on the internet.

I'm a Zazzle designer. Yes, I would like my products reinstated, and it would be nice for any lost earnings to be compensated. But mainly, I just want Zazzle to admit they messed up, big-time.

What I want from Zazzle is an apology.

[Edit 30/05 10:00am AEST: It seems Zazzle have listened to reason and are reinstating products. Here's my update.]


  1. Oh this is good. Shared.
    I'd like to start a collection of designs people had pulled already.
    I'd be happy to put together such a page if you like. Anyone who wants an image included please either post it here, or give me a link to it.

    Here are the two of mine that got pulled.
    MY images

    That square version (I had to dig up the file generated in 2008) uses Times New Roman as the font. SAME as this pi guy. Hardly a "stylized" version as in his description.

    Just got done sending Zazzle some 30 reinstatement requests.

    1. It looks like LaTeX (upgreek+Adobe Symbol) to me:

  2. Fraternities generally already have their own trademark of their letters, so they shouldn't be affected. I suspect Ingrisano will stick to picking off the easier targets than going after entities already armed with lawyers to protect their own trademarks.

    There is another, less immediately obvious cost to designers: the irreplaceable link history associated with their designs that drives traffic to their online stores. Even if they're eventually allowed to upload their designs again, there is no way I know of to regain that link history, potentially costing designers even more than the loss of sales for just their pi-specific designs.

    I'm worried about his attempt to trademark "I 3>", as I suspect he might target my "eye heart" designs, even though they bear no resemblance to this. It seems he's laboring under the impression that he can trademark not only the logo, but an entire concept. That Zazzle is enabling his success at that is really a bad move on their part.


  3. Ya know I don't even want an apology. I understand their initial phase. No one wants to go though a lawsuit. I'd just like them to "evaluate it" and let us put our products back up.

  4. PIss poor and typical patent troll

  5. I tried posting this before, so apologies if it comes up twice.
    Is it not possible for POD designers to join together (world wide would be great) as a group, to be big enough to go up against jerks like this? With or without legal representation, there is a certain power in large groups. And since the POD makers, for the most part, can't or won't do this...

    Also, I also sell on Skreened here in the US. They still print my co-exist shirts (which zazzle and cafepress both wimped out on). Great shirts, print all over them. Good quality, too.

    1. Skreened is a small local company. We know the guy who owns it. They fly under the radar of a lot of these patent trolls.

  6. What goes around comes around.

  7. Ah the I <3 trademark will now read basically 'apparel except! what Reebok makes'.
    What a bozo!

  8. Your misuse of the word pirate is annoying.

  9. zazzle is restoring pi products. There's a notice in the create products section of their forums.

    1. Thanks for the update - will check it out

    2. Btw, do you have a link for any reinstated products? Was there an announcement, or did you receive an email? I haven't heard anything yet myself.

    3. You probably already found it, but it's in the create products category:

    4. Aye indeed, all up to speed now. Thanks :)

  10. Yeah for Zazzle - and they did keep our products, just hid them really good! They are reinstating them, we don' tneed to do anything.

    1. Thanks for the update - will check it out

  11. Save the world?! How could you ever want to unless you yourself were the badger? Kindergarden wasn't a high heel step away from uselessness was it? Get out of the limelight Sharon Stone and start counting your blessings!

    1. "???" Well exactly. I normally delete spam, but there's no link, and this one is so wonderfully odd.

  12. YEA zazzle saw the light.
    This is the email I got.

    Hello Zazzler,

    Thanks to all of you for your patience while we evaluated the claim we received regarding the trademark with registration number 4473631.

    After reviewing the take-down request more closely, Zazzle has decided to restore “Pi” products as of today. Zazzle is a marketplace for a community of artists, and we want to continue to support artists who are creating original artwork.

    Products are being reinstated right now, so it may take a few hours for the products to appear on the Zazzle site. For those of you whose products were affected, we especially appreciate your feedback and patience these past few days. Rest assured that no action is needed on your part for your products to be fully reinstated.

    Thanks again!

  13. Zazzle screwed up, no doubt. But at least they admitted it and fixed their mistake. Good for them. Many companies would just say forget it. Others would say (and have said, "We're sorry... you may go ahead and spend 18 hours reposting all the items we took down." I think they got hammered on this one pretty bad and responded appropriately.

  14. Idiotic... that's what this is. Idiotic. I get that they may have an obligation to remove "any similar marks that is likely to result in consumer confusion as part of the Lanham Act", but using it as it refers to the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is no more likely to "result in consumer confusion" in a way that can actually be upheld by trademark than a glass company that makes custom windows can be confusing people with an operating system made by Microsoft.

  15. Wow/ Glad to hear how stupid this was. I was livid when I received emails from Zazzle stating that I had my EPIC PI t-shirt designs removed because of this mess. Zazzle sucks, that's all that I'm going to say about them. There's a tshirt design for you. :)

  16. I am afraid the Law office of Ronald Millet shall be called upon to cease and desist in its practice of sending any and all letters, emails, notes, notices, or notifications that include the following trademarks: the letter f (owned by Facebiook); the letter p (owned by Pinterest); the letter s (owned by Skype), the letter z (owned by Zazzle); the letter Q (owned by Quicken); the letter B (owned by the Boston Red Sox) ... need we continue?


  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  19. "They could be Jews because they are the only people with enough arrogance to do something like that." Are you for real? I'm not having anti-Semitic shit in my blog comments. Delete.
    There's plenty of info on Paul Ingrisano and Pi Productions on the various articles going around. He sells shirts primarily through physical shops in Brooklyn NY.