Warning:  This post may contain an unnecessary amount of nerd humor.  Reader discretion is advised.

I am not ashamed to admit that I am a bit of a nerd.  I enjoy standardized tests, celebrate Pi Day, geek out over a perfectly crafted Excel spreadsheet, and appreciate nerd humor (Q:  What do you get if you divide the circumference of a jack-o-lantern by its diameter?  A: Pumpkin pi).  I <3 π.

Although greek letters are generally associated with fraternity brothers and sorority sisters, people like me who have taken a heavy math and engineering course load tend to have some different college memories related to Ω, φ, ρ, μ, Σ, and notably the irrational π.

In college, our student groups would sell nerdy t-shirts listing the top 10 reasons why you should date an engineer, like this and this.  Being a nerd has become seemingly cooler in popular culture, thanks to shows like The Big Bang Theory, and the popularity of geeky t-shirts has also increased.  Now online retailers hawk various nerdy t-shirts like:



Recently online retailer Zazzle, which offers many custom printed clothing items including the π shirt above, received a cease-and-desist letter regarding their π t-shirts. 

It turns out that the United States Patent and Trademark Office recently allowed a registration for the following mark for “athletic apparel, namely, shirts, pants, jackets, footwear, hats and caps, athletic uniforms” to an individual named Paul Ingrisano, described in some reports as an artist and other reports as a pirate:


Mark Image

Ingrisano also is the applicant for the mark I <3 for similar apparel goods, which made me recall my prior post about the <3 emoticon on apparel goods. 

Ingrisano’s attorney’s cease-and-desist letter (which you can find at the bottom of Wired’s article here) first erroneously claims “copyright infringement,” while asserting only Ingrisano’s trademark rights in the mark.  The letter claims that Zazzle has “been using the mathematical symbol ‘pi’, referred to herein as the PI trademark, in association with the marketing or sale” of its products, and that Mr. Ingrisano owns all rights in the PI trademark, claiming first use back to 2010.  Clearly, however, the registered mark is something more than the “mathematical symbol ‘pi” – there’s that pesky period there too – so it’s different right?  However, under trademark rules, “punctuation, such as quotation marks, hyphens, periods, commas, and exclamation marks generally does not significantly alter the commercial impression of the mark.”  TMEP 807.14(c).  But does that mean he has rights in the π without the period, I doubt it.  I would be willing to wager that the “mathematical symbol ‘pi'” has been used on t-shirts prior to Mr. Ingrisano’s alleged first use of 2010.   Despite many plausible and rational responses to such a seemingly misguided letter, Zazzle is said in some of these reports to have given up their lunch money – they supposedly took down much of the π-related merchandise at least initially.

Trademark bullying has been defined as “the practice of a trademark holder using litigation tactics in an attempt to enforce trademark rights beyond a reasonable interpretation of the scope of the rights granted to the trademark holder.”  So do you think these nerds are being bullied into giving up their π shirts?

And, if you don’t want to weigh in on nerds being bullied, share your favorite nerdy shirt in the comments below.