Capitalism captures the 99 percent on mugs, T-shirts

November 6, 2011

The revolution will be trademarked and put on T-shirts if an increasing number of entrepreneurs succeed in their attempts to profit from the Occupy demonstrations.

A few T-shirts began to appear several days after the first protest began on Sept. 17 with a march through the streets of Lower Manhattan.

Now, T-shirts, coffee mugs and other merchandise emblazoned with Occupy locations and slogans are being offered online and amid the camp sites that have sprung up in cities across the country. A number of merchandise vendors, clothing designers and others are making plans to market a wide variety of goods for a wide variety of reasons, even as some protesters decry the business plans as directly counter to the demonstrations’ goals.

In recent weeks, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has received a spate of applications from enterprising merchandisers, lawyers and others seeking to win exclusive commercial rights to such phrases as “We are the 99 percent,” ‘’Occupy” and “Occupy DC 2012.”

Organizers of the protest centered in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park went so far as to file for a trademark of “Occupy Wall Street” after several other applications connected to the demonstrations were filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Wylie Stecklow, a lawyer representing the protesters, said the Oct. 24 filing was done to prevent profiteering from a movement that many say is a protest of corporate greed.

“I would like to ensure that this isn’t co-opted for commercial purposes,” Stecklow said. “The trademark can be used for noncommercial purposes.”

Stecklow’s application was one of three filed with the Patent and Trademark Office seeking to trademark either “Occupy Wall Street” or “Occupy Wall St.”

Vince Ferraro, a small businessman based in Arizona, applied to trademark “Occupy Wall Street” a few hours after Stecklow. Ferraro declined to discuss his plans if he wins the trademark.

“If I prevail,” he said, “I believe there are opportunities in commerce not directly related to the movement.”

Both Stecklow and Ferraro were beat to the trademark office by a Long Island couple who filed for “Occupy Wall St.” on Oct. 16. Robert and Diane Maresca paid $975 to file the application, which said they intended to put the phrase on a variety of products.

The couple could not be reached for comment. But on Thursday, they withdrew their application, leaving Stecklow’s clients and Ferraro as the only two competing to own “Occupy Wall Street.”

Patent and Trademark Office lawyer Cynthia Lynch said that when the trademark office is confronted with similar applications, it gives priority to the first application received. However, she said the trademark office also takes into consideration whether the phrase was in wide use before the first application was filed.

Stecklow, the attorney for the protesters, says he believed his clients will prevail because they’ve been using the phrase “Occupy Wall Street” for months before the first application was filed.

Lynch declined to discuss specific applications and said it takes about three months for the office to make an initial determination.

“This rush to trademark was entirely expected and predictable because this is what everybody does,” said Ron Coleman, a trademark lawyer and author of a popular trademark blog. “The irony is too rich.”

Coleman predicted the New York protesters would prevail because they’ve been using the phrase the longest. Nonetheless, he questioned how the trademark could be managed by a group claiming to be leaderless.

“Who has authority to speak on behalf of the trademark?” Coleman said.

In the meantime, several businesses and merchandise vendors aren’t waiting for the trademark office.

Ray Agrinzone, a clothing designer, launched theoccupystore.com earlier this month. The site offers T-shirts, hoodies and even gift certificates.

Agrinzone said he intends to donate 10 percent of his profits to the Occupy Wall Street organizers. He said he has lost money so far but still planned to donate about $100 over the weekend. He said he will propose to organizers that a section of Zuccotti Park be turned into a merchandise zone for the benefit of the movement.

He said he has received hateful tweets and e-mail from people opposed to his store and his plans to profit from the Occupy demonstrations.

“There’s nothing wrong with turning a profit,” Agrinzone said. “I don’t think that’s what this is all about.”

Further, he said that fashion can help with the movement’s goals.

“There is no better way to spread the message of revolution than through clothes,” Agrinzone said.

— Associated Press

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