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Pi on T-shirts illegal due to a registered trademark

As a kid, I thought that \(\pi\approx 3.14159265358979\) is a very important number, so I memorized the first 30 digits when I was 8. Because the amount of "wow" I could see at school was higher than the efforts I had to invest to learn the digits, I learned 100 digits when I was 10 – I can still tell you how it goes – even though I was already recognizing very clearly that there's no point in learning too many digits.

The number\[

\Huge \pi^{\rm TM}\approx 3.14

\] is arguably the most important irrational number in mathematics – possible competitors are \(e\) and \(\sqrt{2}\). It is very natural for a high percentage of geeky mugs and T-shirt to display this Greek lowercase letter.

Off-topic, programming: BTW, with some improved score around 3.67, I returned to top 15 (and top 3%) of the Higgs machine learning contest LOL.
Houston, we have a problem. A bizarre T-shirt company Pi Productions led by a Brooklyn street artist Paul Ingrisano has successfully copyrighted \(\pi\)© as the U.S. trademark registration 4,473,631. Congratulations or, even more precisely, fak you, aßhole.




The news about the bizarre legal decision were kickstarted by Wired yesterday; see Google News for others. The Wired article reminds us that this may be the most important legal verdict related to \(\pi\)® since 1897 when Indiana tried to enforce the value \(\pi=3.2\) on its citizens.




A difference between a rabbit hit by a car and a lawyer hit by a car is that you may see some traces of the tires in front of the rabbit from the braking. The world of lawyers has its own rules that often work in order to help the society – and the good guys in the society – but some of the decisions are just stunning.

I can't imagine an acceptable justification of this decision. Jez Kemp rightfully quipped that the verdict is as weird as McDonald's monopoly over the letter "M". The letter \(\pi\)© belongs to the Greeks. This is already a simplification, of course. There's been some pre-history and post-history of the alphabets. A similar letter to the capital Greek \(\Pi\) was adopted in the Cyrillics, too. And so on. The mathematical constant \(\pi\)™ has been discussed by people for 4,000 years or so.

In Central Europe, the number \(\pi\) is a victim of another but less dramatic injustice. We often call it "the Ludolph number" after Ludolph van Ceulen (1540-1610) who managed to calculate 35 digits of \(\pi\)© correctly (during his life which is a long time ago). While it was an impressive achievement at that time, I am not sure whether it really justifies his "ownership" of the constant, either.

But what's special about a particular street artist relatively to everyone else who is fascinated by \(\pi\)® and wants to share his excitement?

A fine for BNP Paribas is just an insanity

One more news report about the unreasonable decisions by arrogant lawyers and politicians caught my attention today. The eurozone's largest bank, BNP Paribas – of course that even folks like myself have funds of order $10,000+ associated with that bank – is being criminalized in the U.S. because it made business with Iran and covered it which is totally OK in France and Europe but it was not OK in America. The supposed fine is $10 billion – it's like one year of profits of the whole corporation. I can't believe my eyes.

America is important but what do these evil people think about themselves? If they had some respect towards the allies, they would agree that they wouldn't even have a right to criticize a company for doing something that is OK according to the laws where the bank is performing most of the operations. OK, imagine that a concept of a fine is acceptable. But this infinite fine? Do the U.S. officials think that they may impose an unlimited fine on any company in the world just because it ignores what they consider "their rules"? Can other nations do it, too? May the Czech Republic order Exxon to pay $1 trillion? Because its CEO doesn't speak Czech which the CEOs should?

This proposed $10 billion fine is completely disproportional relatively to what BNP Paribas has done. Some U.S. politicians have done much more to allow Iran to do dangerous things than BNP Paribas. If a punishment proportional to this $10 billion fine for BNP Paribas were applied to Barack Obama himself, all blacks and Democrat politicians in the U.S. would have to be executed.

So I would like to remind these arrogant jerks that they are not owning the world. Iran is a potentially dangerous country but if this is the cure, then the cure – these U.S. apparatchiks – is worse than the disease.

Blondes' DNA, completely off-topic: I was intrigued by the announcements that the gene of the blondes has been identified. The researchers were inspired by fish, successfully produced blonde mice, and then they succeeded with some human cell cultures, too.

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reader Maverick said...

A solution might be to crowd source a million or so everyday people printing tshirts, business cards and putting up websites using the pi symbol - imagine the cost of the cease and desist orders, the take down orders etc


reader Luboš Motl said...

But wouldn't this guy ultimately win billions in compensations? ;-)


reader Peter F. said...

I think the real culprits are the lawmakers (politicians) who make all kinds of crazy patents possible. Then judges and patent lawyers are another morally completely corrupt category of culprits. Crooks and swindlers (extremely greedy sociopaths) are by just people who by definition do harm most directly to others. The politicians/lawmakers, judges and prosecuting lawyers are providing the tools and directly assist the patent law exploiting crooks.


reader JollyJoker said...

Apparently a trademark on pi followed by a dot, where the owner claims products with just pi look similar enough to be in violation. No indication this would hold up in court, but Zazzle has just taken them all down because they don't care enough to fight it.


Are you still coming up with improvements of the algorithm or are you just tweaking parameters by now?


reader Luboš Motl said...

A part of the algorithm is changing qualitatively all the time - although these "not just parameters" changes shouldn't be called quite revolutionary relatively to my first ones. ;-) Adjusting parameters, too.


reader Shannon said...

This is totally crazy. I'd be curious to know how long this ownership go... 1 year? More?... Enough time to launch his brand?... By law there should be some expiry date to this ownership.

I remember reading that the famous chocolate bar Kit-Kat has ownership of the sentence "Have a break... Have Kit-Kat". If another brand wants to use this "Have a break...", they will be sued and surely have a big fine to pay.


reader QsaTheory said...

http://www.chillingeffects.org/trademark/faq#QID54


reader Orson OLSON said...

FUN, fine kettle of fish, Dr. Motl! Can the "Attack of The 100 Meter Blonde" be far behind?


reader kevinwang2 said...

This crap wouldn't have happened if Einstein was in the patent office (oh I mean the copyright office).


Side remark: I memorized the first 22 digits at 8 and didn't get wows, so the number has been fixed at 22 ever since.


reader Alex said...

Come the revolution we hang the lawyers, bankers and the priests


reader ƛ said...

You heard about the difference between patents and copyrights?


reader Luboš Motl said...

Hi, this is strictly speaking a registered trademark - not any of the things you mentioned.
http://trademarks.justia.com/857/85/pi-85785006.html


reader John Archer said...

Dear Luboš,

1000 to 1 says you have the periodic table down pat too. :)

And weights of the most common isotopes as well? Or do you just estimate these to within a few percent?

By the way, I'm curious about the way you remember the digits of π. Do you 'see' them or do you 'remember the tune', i.e. the verbal form in an (unspoken) recitation? And can you access them at random, giving the nth digit for example?


reader Luboš Motl said...

Hi John, I only remember the periodic table because of the Czech poems - sometimes ones I had to add.

http://motls.blogspot.com/2010/12/czech-verses-to-memorize-periodic-table.html?m=1


reader John Archer said...

Thanks for the explanation, Luboš. I remember only the first 20 or so, but I'm delighted to hear I do it the same way as you!

Re the periodic table:

Haha! Neat! :)

But what happened to lanthanum itself?


reader John Archer said...

Doh!

Forget the lanthanum question. Same for actinium.


reader davideisenstadt said...

lubos:
i believe the joke is as follows...a dead skunk and a dead lawyer lay dead in the street...whats the difference?
there are skid marks in front of the skunk.
cheers.


reader davideisenstadt said...

try to get blood from a turnip, as it were.


reader BobSykes said...

You wasted your time, although when I was an engineering students in the 1960's we were expected to memorize the values of the logarithms of the first ten or so digits and the values of the trig functions of the main angles. All forgotten now, and hand-held calculators make the practice pointless anyway.


As to Indiana (I did my graduate studies at Purdue), I believe the value for pi was supposed to be 3, but the proposal never got out of committee. Purdue claims that one of its grads squelched the proposal. It must have been made by a Notre Dame or IU grad.


As to pi = 3, this is not a stupid idea. That's an error less than 5%. 3.2 would be an error of less than 2%, and 22/7 would an error of 0.04%.


Back in the days of slide rules and mechanical adding machines, accepting such errors would be attractive. Most engineering designs are based on data that has errors as large as a factor of 2 or more. Civil engineers routinely double the expected loads, and mechanical engineers use safety factors as high as 40 in critical applications. So what's 5% or 2% between friends.


reader John Archer said...

OT:

A nice approximation to π is 355/113 = 3.14159292.... Six-decimal place accuracy from 3-digit numbers! One of nature's freebies. :)

π expanded as a continued fraction goes 3, 7, 15, 1, 292, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 3 ...
[Done on Excel so watch out!]

It's that 292 wot dunnit. :)


reader Smoking Frog said...

You'd better look into whether disparagement of a trademark is actionable - maybe you could be sued for calling pi "irrational." ;-)

Come to think of it, calling it irrational might be offensive to some groups, so it should be forbidden in schools. :-)


reader John Archer said...

π is a goddamn bozo hippy number — "it's transcendental, man!" :)


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear John, "Ac" before Thorium etc. had to be remembered.


But concerning the missing Lanthanum, I forgot to write down a whole single poem on that website. I am going to fix it now, and update this comment in a minute.


reader Swine flu said...

I haven't followed the bank story, but as a general question, is it not the case that any bank that has a US subsidiary is subject to US regulations, just like the US companies doing business in Europe, for example? Now, if they don't have a US presence, then it would be hard to understand what the point of the fine is.


reader Luboš Motl said...

OK, but the proposed fine is like 10 years of profit of how much BNP's U.S. branch!


The U.S. is almost everywhere in business - everyone has *some* contacts - which surely doesn't mean that every company may become a target of U.S. fines that are comparable to its global profit, does it?


reader Jason Calley said...

One of my favorites: "It is only 99% of all lawyers who give the other 1% a bad name."


reader Rehbock said...

Responding to the fine, bank raises interest by announcing it has trademarked the constant e ...
:-)


reader anna v said...

Maybe Greece should take the to court for stealing pi. They did take people to court and won about the "feta cheese" trademark. Only greek white cheese can be called "feta" now!


reader Pkreter said...

As far as I can tell, if a period does not follow the symbol, the trademark is not infringed. As long as you don't end the sentence with the symbol, you are OK to use without TM.


reader Tom said...

Don’t forget the economists!


reader Shannon said...

And the executioners.


reader Ralph Hartley said...

Rubbish.

According to the US Trademark Office "The mark consists of the pi mathematical symbol followed by a period." Not the number, not pi by itself, it wouldn't even cover pi at the end of a sentence. Trademark is not copyright. It only covers use for identifying athletic apparel.
It is hardly the first, there are over 800 pi trademarks, though most contain other symbols, or use special fonts, or are only a brand of yogurt.


reader Gene Day said...

Wrong. Engineering designs are almost always based on calculations made to several significant figures. When dealing with optics or precision mechanisms the dimensions are routinely held (and tested) from 1 to 100 parts per million. Most civil engineering strength of components determinations allow a factor of two (or more) for safety reasons but the calculations and the strength of the materials employed are alway known much more accurately than a factor of two.
If a factor of 40 is used the designer simply does not know what the hell he is doing. I have spent a professional lifetime having to deal with such amateurs.


reader Uncle Al said...

Here's your tee shirt, Pi = 355/113. Then, Feigenbaum's constants! We'll need a trademarked symbol such as

http://cdn.pjmedia.com/michaelwalsh/files/2013/06/obama_flipping_the_bird.jpg

presumably without the intellectual metaphor.


reader Gene Day said...

Copyright law is very different from patent law, which requires both novelty and a concept that is not obvious to a person skilled in the art (USC 103). Anything can be copyrighted but a copyright does not bar use by anyone. It only allows the copyright holder the right to legally prevent an infringer from selling a similar item that exhibits the protected copyright and there is no guarantee that the plaintiff will win the infringement case even if he files suit. There is really nothing wrong with this.
Re. Iran, I concur but American politics and the demonization of others (including Putin) leads to some cooky actions.


reader kashyap vasavada said...

@BobSkyes & Gene Day: Can I intervene? The accuracy you demand depends on the application . For a residential street project a safety margin of a factor of 2 or 3 may be enough. If you are designing a glass cage hanging up 1000 feet about a street level, you better have a safety margin of 50 or so in the load limit!! If you are designing a nanometer system, then of course, the requirements would be much stringer.


reader Gene Day said...

I see. So, anything can be trademarked but a copyright requires novelty (something new) and a patent adds the requirement of invention (not obvious to a person skilled in the art). My own experience is only in patents. Patents also expire 20 years after the application is filed.


reader Swine flu said...

At one point, Google was to be fined, "up to $5 billion in fines for the California
based company, or 10 percent of its total annual revenue." (http://rt.com/news/google-antitrust-case-deal-753/)

It avoided the fines by making changes in its practices, but the point is, a big scary number as a starting point happens.

A more fundamental question is whether it is an appropriate policy to try to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons through sanctions.


reader Swine flu said...

Corrected link: http://rt.com/news/google-antitrust-case-deal-753/


reader Curious George said...

America always does the right thing - after exhausting all alternatives. (W. Churchill)


reader AJ said...

They already raise interest by applying a "force of interest" to e:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compound_interest#Force_of_interest


reader John Archer said...

I'm sure Piltdown Mann would have had some trick to hide the design.


reader Rehbock said...

Actually it ended in ruins after Neolithic lawyers got an injunction against the carbon polluters developing it :-)


reader Rehbock said...

I had thought about working compound in but it was costing time and I lost interest.


reader Dilaton said...

Hi Phil, missed you ,,, ;-) !

Sorry for the off topic, but I do not know how to bring your attention to this:

http://motls.blogspot.de/2014/05/physics-overflow-is-live.html


If you like to access your imported account you can write to me


dilaton@physicsoverflow.org


to obtain (temporary) access data.



Cheers


reader Rehbock said...

The picture below is by Boo - my bird and avatar. Drawn by beak in "Yoplait Whip" a trademark for this yogurt product.
He does know Pi to be a little bigger than 3. But doesnt know it could infringe Pi yogurt trademark were it used to sell yogurt. But most humans and birds know little or no trademark and intellectual properties law or - judging by some of what I see - math. It is easy to scare them with a letter saying that they can't use this letter. All - not just a pi - is greek to them.
BTW Boo would hold the copyright on this "parroticular" image content or he would were he human. I do not think that birds can register trademarks or hold copyrights in their own name :-)


reader Rehbock said...

huh?


reader Swine flu said...

The EU is an economically advanced block of 500 million people, which precludes the US from being any kind of "ruler" over the them. The main surviving ambiguity in the trans-Atlantic relations is due to the continued existence of NATO and the US participation in European security arrangements.

The current state of human society is such that weapons still remain an essential ingredient of freedom, so if Europe wants to be truly free of the US influence, it should arm itself properly and then abolish NATO or at least reassess and renegotiate its role.


reader Tom Trevor said...

If Obama was really interested in projecting US power, would he really swap 5 high value terrorists for one sergeant, who might be a deserter?


reader Tom Trevor said...

Disney wanted to trademark Seal Team Six, but thought better of it.


reader Smoking Frog said...

I've been thinking of solving the school curricula problem by calling it "differently rational" or, perhaps, "gay." :-)


reader Smoking Frog said...

Shannon - It looks like a trademark lasts for as long as the owning legal entity (person or company) is using it, which could be forever, but the entity must renew it every 10 years.

The purpose of a trademark is to prevent fraud, i.e., manufacturing a product and misleading consumers to believe that the other company had manufactured it.


reader Peter F. said...

You ever heard of the grey zone of overlap between what can be considered copyrighted and patented ideas? ;-)


reader cynholt said...

I have difficulty grasping the idea that the executive in place actually matters or is anything more than a mouthpiece for various powerful factions, the office having been effectively compromised in '63. But whether that executive is a frivolous frat boy or a supposed constitutional scholar, he should be ignored.

Consequentially, I don't look to Obama for useful or accurate information and don't spend time worrying about analysis of what he says or does. He's an actor, a focal point, but not an authoritative source. If there is a shift in foreign policy going on, it is only in locale and not substance, which is simply the desire to dominate the entire planet, by force if necessary.


reader Mike V said...

UNC offers TIAA-CREF or Fidelity as options for a defined contribution plan to supplement or replace the state pension plan. Those two plans would be fully vested (by Federal Law) and out of control of UNC.


reader Peter Francis Lewis said...

you stupid?