Verizon C&D’s VerizonMath Tshirts

Verizon’s intellectual property lawyers are demanding the removal of tshirts parodying their inability to tell the difference between .002 cents and .002 dollars. The legal beagles say in their letter [pdf]:

Blue Fish T-shirts’ unauthorized use of the VERIZON Marks constitutes trademark and trade name infringement and unfair competition under federal, state and common law. Such use of the VERIZON Marks conveys the false and misleading impression that your company’s merchandise is sponsored or approved by Verizon or that your company is somehow affiliated with Verizon. Such infringing use violates Section 43(a) of the federal Lanham Act and also tarnishes Verizon’s reputation and constitutes trademark dilution in violation of Section 43(c) of the Lanham Act. There is no justification for your company’s unauthorized use of the VERIZON Marks.

Which can only mean one thing: buy now before it’s too late! — BEN POPKEN

Verizon tries to stop sale of VerizonMath T-Shirts! [VerizonMath]

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  1. bravo says:

    I don’t think it’s trademark infringement if you are parodying (is that a word?) someone else’s trademark and there is no chance of confusion. It would be good if an intellectual property lawyer is a commenter and could weigh in on this. Here is just the top reference when I did a quick google search:
    http://www.jamesshuggins.com/h/oth1/parody.htm

  2. acambras says:

    conveys the false and misleading impression that your company’s merchandise is sponsored or approved by Verizon

    Ha ha — I am PRETTY sure that any reasonable person will be able to figure out that Verizon did NOT approve the shirts.

  3. bluegus32 says:

    I am not an intellectual property lawyer by trade (I’m more a commercial business lawyer) but I have done some intellectual property law in the past. You are correct that this is clearly parody. Verizon just doesn’t appreciate being embarassed. Their lawyers should shut the hell up.

  4. Boy has pop culture come a long way.

  5. Stepehn Colbert says:

    thats the most sensible thing i’ve read you say today Bluegus32, high-five?

  6. infinitysnake says:

    Verizon can bitch all they want, but the shirts are perfectly legal…

  7. factotum says:

    Ending italics….Use end tags, folks, please.

  8. factotum says:

  9. SuperJdynamite says:

    “I don’t think it’s trademark infringement if you are parodying (is that a word?) someone else’s trademark”

    Parody represents fair use under copyright law, but I’m not so sure that it applies under trademark law.

  10. JT says:

    What is a “Verison Mark” anyways? Is that the special currency they’ve invented?

    btw: There is no law against defamation, slander, or (as Verison puts it) tarnishing of reputation or character if the allegations are true. Verison tarnishes its own character.

    and thats my 0.002¢ or shall I say $0.00002

  11. Mike_ says:

    If you ask me, Verizon is doing a pretty good job tarnishing its own reputation. Enough to justify parody T-Shirts, even.

  12. mechanismatic says:

    closing second italics tag.

    Acambras, hate to call you out on this, but this is the second time I’ve noticed you using a second opening italics tag instead of a closing italics tag.

    It’s <i> then </i> to close.

  13. acambras says:

    Oh, very very very sorry. I really didn’t know. Now that I know, I’ll do it right from now on.

    My mom thinks I’m a computer whiz, but really I don’t know shit. (:-)

    Apologies to all! (with italics properly closed)

  14. georget99 says:

    When will these companies and lawyers learn?

    A few dozen T-Shirts would have been sold and the whole thing would have been over in a week or two.

    Now it’s going to be on the cover of Time, articles explaining VZmath in every newspaper, comedians making references to it for the next 10 years, and when they’re taken off the market, Verizon will be buying them up on eBay for $10,000 each.

  15. Optimistic Prime says:

    I would agree with bravo that it’s a parody, so it isn’t stealing their IP. As far as tarnishing their reputation, Verizon already did it to themselves. They really should not be hiring incompetent people to do their billing. At the very least they shouldn’t outsource their billing to foreign countries that trade in goats, llamas, and camels instead of money.

  16. Hey, the girl’s shirts cost more than the guy’s! That’s discriminations! (

    When will these companies and lawyers learn?

    Apparently, never. Which is good for entertainment purposes but not so good for getting us to take them seriously.

  17. robbie says:

    Can Blue Fish find an IP lawyer willing to do enough pro bono work to at least handle the preliminary paperwork? Verizon is probably just blasting a letter and seeing what sticks. If they get a few strongly worded letters back from a lawyer stating that it is a parody, they may go away.

  18. Morgan says:

    I’m most amused by the “trade name infringement and unfair competition” allegations there. It says “revizion,” not “verizon,” so the trade name isn’t being used at all- I wonder if the lawyers actually missed that? Unfair competition is also pretty funny, unless Verizon has some large t-shirt business I’m unaware of; a t-shirt company is clearly not competing with a cell phone company.

  19. RogueSophist says:

    I’m an IP lawyer. A trademark lawyer, even. Anyway, super-briefly (I’m a busy lawyer, after all…), there is a trademark parody doctrine. The Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq.) provides for “fair” or “nominal” use, but this doctrine has been widely interpreted to be more restrictive than than the parallel doctrine in copyright. There’s a nice little write-up here that I encourage you all to read.

    The Trademark Dilution Revision Act of 2006 (TDRA) added a provision excluding “parody, comment, and criticism” from dilution actions (different from infringement actions!), but it’s as yet unclear what effect this will have on trademark fair use generally.

    I’m not going to comment extensively on the Verizon t-shirt above, but if you’d like to evaulate its odds of success in court (which, by the way, would depend largely on the judge’s mood and sense of humor), check out this excellent write-up. I’ll say only that tangling with famous marks can be…difficult.

  20. bluegus32 says:

    Robbie: in my experience, IP lawyers do not do pro bono work. The value of their services is too high and IP litigation far too expensive to just hand out legal services for free.

  21. RogueSophist says:

    @Bluegus32: IP lawyers do pro bono work as much as other lawyers, often in copyright and trademark disputes for artists, non-profits, and small businesses. Pro bono relationships are strictly outlined in agreements, and the parties can choose how far an attorney is willing to represent the client gratis. That said, most problems are solved, one way or another, long before court.

    Of course, many experienced IP lawyers (especially we big firm lawyers) are restricted in whom we can represent pro bono because of professional conflicts (we have many, many corporate clients), pro bono firm procedures and, of course, time.

  22. Nygdan says:

    Its amazing how quickly they responded to something from the original guy’s blog with their legal team, and yet, they probably still have people that don’t know how to use decimals, dollars, or, well, just numbers.

  23. bluegus32 says:

    RogueSophist: “IP lawyers do pro bono work as much as other lawyers.”

    Where are all you guys? I’m in California and trust me when I say that there are relatively few lawyers who do pro bono work. I understand that some states require a certain amount of pro bono work. California does not. As a result, most of us don’t do it. I try when I can.

    And out of curiosity — do you do IP work? I’ve done some but certainly not enough recently to claim to be conversant in it. Regardless, while I agree that IP cases very often settle long before trial (as with most civil litigation in this country), it remains an expensive proposition. The last IP case I had was with a furniture manufacturer which claimed that my client had stolen their design for a chair. Other than the fact that my client’s design had four legs, there was no other similarity in the design.

    That case cost my client $100,000 in defense costs. And that was before we settled.

    With a case like this, Verizon has just sicced their lawyers on you. Certainly, you don’t expect a single letter to get Verizon to capitulate and withdraw this nonsense, do you? Or is this the kind of thing where Verizon’s attorneys are just being bullies and a solid punch in the nose (metaphorically speaking) will do the trick?

    And even if you took this case pro bono, am I safe in assuming that the pro bono work is limited only to pre-litigation? I’m assuming that if this ever hits the litigation stage, your pro bono work stops, no?

    Certainly, I’ll write a letter for someone free of charge but I don’t consider that pro bono work. When you take a case from pre-litigation through trial, without charge, that’s pro bono work.

  24. Clinton Forry says:

    Yet another reason I am pleased that my contract with them ends in Nov…