Six weeks after emerging as the public face of widespread discontent with corporate America, Occupy Wall Street has found itself in an unlikely battle over trademark rights.
The loosely organized group — formed to protest corporate greed and government dysfunction — had hoped to trademark its name so it could get the word out with tee-shirts, caps and bags without fear of lawsuits.
“There have been many different organizations attempting to file for trademarks around OWS,” lawyer Samuel Cohen, the protester in charge of the effort, told AFP.
“This filing at this time is purely defensive, purely meant to make sure OWS is allowed to continue using its own name without having to fight other organizations saying that they are OWS.”
And so the protesters — still camped out in New York’s Zuccotti Park — applied for a trademark on October 24 with the US Patent and Trademark Office, only to find out that someone had beat them to it.
Six days earlier, a couple from New York’s Long Island, Diane and Robert Maresca, had requested the trademark “Occupy Wall St” so they could use it — according to their application — for their own clothing and accessories.
But instead of freely handing out the shirts, bags and caps in the egalitarian spirit of the protests, Robert Maresca plans to distribute the traditional way — by selling them.
Vincent Ferraro, owner of an Arizona-based business called Fer-Eng, had the same idea, and applied a few hours after the protesters.
“I am a global branding and marketing executive. My purchase is for a future business enterprise and not in any way (including politically) affiliated with OWS,” he wrote in an email.
“Information … whether it is expressed in trademarks, domain names, data analytics, or in other forms, is the chattel of the 21st century.”
Unlike their competition, Occupy Wall Street is already using the name on their website and newspaper, and the name can be seen on tee-shirts and signs throughout Zuccotti Park.
Cohen said they are “very confident” their application will be approved.
Few of the protesters seemed to have followed the pursuit of the trademark, an activity normally reserved for the kinds of companies the protesters say have bought off the US government and ruined American life.
“My concerns are here,” Sam McBee said, gesturing to a large sign listing the number of people killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Others took offense at the idea of the anti-capitalist movement — with the slogan: “We are the 99 percent that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the one percent” — chasing down a corporate trademark.
“It’s stupid. This is a political movement, not a business,” said one protester, who asked not to be named. “Symbolically, it harms the movement,” another chimed in.
Cohen did not expect to receive a ruling from the patent office for another five months.
The fate of the trademark application, and of the movement itself, remains uncertain. But the merchandise has already hit the market.
An eBay search for “Occupy Wall Street” brings up more than 5,000 responses.