Brand OWS: trademark battle as marketers cash in

The race is on to trademark the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. With multiple parties vying to take control of the name, the grassroots movement is seeking to protect itself from those trying to cash in at the group’s expense.

­When a group of anti-consumerist activists decided to occupy Wall Street to protest rampant corporate influence in US politics, few could have imagined that they would soon be fighting for the right to their own name.

But that is exactly what happened on October 24, when leaders of the protest movement filed an application to trademark the name of the movement with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Speaking on Monday, Samuel Cohen, a lawyer whose firm is a part of the movement’s legal working group , said “the filing was primarily a defensive move to make sure that no persons not affiliated with Occupy Wall Street were attempting to use the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) name for improper purposes,” as cited by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

Obviously, sensitive critics might accuse the movement’s founders of hypocrisy by attempting to profit from of a group purportedly against capitalist excesses, Cohen countered that the decision was not about making money.

“Nearly all nonprofit organizations trademark their names,” Cohen said, as cited by the WSJ. “And the purpose is to avoid consumer confusion.”

And while the trademark will give them the right to use the name on their website, in periodicals and newsletters, and on other consumer merchandise, any revenues generated will ultimately be used to help the activists achieve their goals as opposed to lining anyone’s pockets.  

However, on the same day OWS leaders filed their trademark application, Arizona-based Fer-Eng Investments LLC had also filed to trademark the phrase “Occupy Wall Street.”

In a written statement to POLITICO, Vincent Ferraro of Fer-Eng Investments wrote that he is “a branding and marketing executive” who is not a party to the movement.    

“My purchase is for a business enterprise and not in any way (including politically) affiliated with OWS,”
POLITICO reports.  

It has been reported that Occupy Wall Street beat Fer-Eng Investments to the punch, as the OWS application was reportedly submitted first, albeit by a few hours.    

However, it will take some time to discover just who has a right to the movement’s name.

According to the USPTO documents, both of the applications “will be assigned to an examining attorney approximately three months after filing date,” POLITICO reports.

This is not the first time someone unrelated to the movement has attempted to take ownership of its name.

According to the Wall Street Journal, on October 17, Robert Maresca of West Islip, New York, filed to trademark the phrase “Occupy Wall St.”

In their USPTO application, Robert and his wife Diane Maresca want to trademark the phrase so that they will be able to place it on a wide variety of goods, including bumper stickers, shirts, beach bags, footwear, umbrellas, and hobo bags, reports.

However, unlike the  Marescas, the applications filed by the leaders of OWS and Fer-Eng Investments both spelled out the word “street” on their applications.  

And while the latest battle to control the movements name has taken on legal dimensions, ever since the activists first began camping out in Zuccotti Park on September 17, people have been quick to cash in on the OWS movement.  

With vendors selling various Occupy Wall Street paraphernalia in every corner of the park, which is located in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district, others have taken the crass step of attempting to capitalize on OWS online.  

According to Reuters, one site is selling 30 packs of Occupy Condoms for $11.99. Another has a $35 Occupy Wall Street iPhone case. Nearly 5,000 individual items were available for sale on eBay by Tuesday night, the agency reports.  

Such actions have prompted fears among protestors that those unaffiliated with the movement could ultimately undermine its goals.  

Nicole Capobianco, 19, who says she has been a part of the movement since its inception, was appalled by the blatant commercialism the OWS has spawned.  

“I don’t appreciate that,” she said. “That’s the antithesis of this movement.”

She went on to claim that she and her fellow protestors “do not want to be involved in the marketing of our movement,” as cited by Reuters.  

And while volunteer spokesman Haywood Carey recognized many protestors were unhappy with the vendors’ decision to sell merchandise inside of the park, she also realized the contradiction in an organic, leaderless movement issuing orders.  

“It’s not our place to tell them they can’t do it. We do not own ‘Occupy Wall Street,’” Carey said, as cited by Reuters.  

However, when the USPTO makes its decision over the coming months, the name “Occupy Wall Street” will most definitely have an owner, if not the movement itself.

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