Squeezing profit out of Occupy Wall Street

In this Oct. 25, 2011, file photo, Walter Lichtenberg sits on a park bench selling shirts and buttons at the Occupy Portland camp in downtown Portland, Ore. AP Photo/Don Ryan

SAN FRANCISCO - The revolution will be trademarked and put on T-shirts if an increasing number of entrepreneurs succeed in their attempts to profit from the Occupy demonstrations.

A few T-shirts began to appear several days after the first protest began on Sept. 17 with a march through the streets of lower Manhattan.

Now, T-shirts, coffee mugs and other merchandise emblazoned with Occupy locations and slogans are being offered online and amid the camp sites that have sprung up in cities across the country. A number of merchandise vendors, clothing designers and others are making plans to market a wide-variety of goods for a wide-variety of reasons even as some protesters decry the business plans as directly counter to the demonstrations' goals.

In recent weeks, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has received a spate of applications from enterprising merchandisers, lawyers and others seeking to win exclusive commercial rights to such phrases as "We are the 99 percent," "Occupy" and "Occupy DC 2012."

Organizers of the protest centered in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park went so far as to file for a trademark of "Occupy Wall Street" after several other applications connected to the demonstrations were filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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Wylie Stecklow, a lawyer representing the protesters, said the Oct. 24 filing was done to prevent profiteering from a movement many say is a protest against corporate greed.

"I would like to ensure that this isn't coopted for commercial purposes," Stecklow said. "The trademark can be used for noncommercial purposes."

Stecklow's application was one of three filed with the U.S. PTO seeking to trademark either "Occupy Wall Street" or "Occupy Wall St."

Vince Ferraro, a small businessman based in Arizona, applied to trademark "Occupy Wall Street" a few hours after Stecklow. Ferraro declined to discuss his plans if he wins the trademark.

"If I prevail," he said, "I believe there are opportunities in commerce not directly related to the movement."

Both Stecklow and Ferraro were beat to the trademark office by a Long Island couple who filed for "Occupy Wall St." on Oct. 16. Robert and Diane Maresca paid $975 for the application, which said they intended to put the phrase on a wide-variety of products.

They couldn't be reached for comment. But on Thursday, the couple withdrew their application, leaving Stecklow's clients and Ferraro as the only two competing to own "Occupy Wall Street."

USPTO lawyer Cynthia Lynch said that when the trademark office is confronted with similar applications, it gives priority to the first application received. However, she said the trademark office also takes into consideration whether the phrase was in wide use before the first application was filed.

Stecklow, the attorney for the protesters, says he believed his clients will prevail because they've been using the phrase "Occupy Wall Street" for months before the first application was filed.

The USPTO's Lynch declined to discuss specific applications and said it takes about three months for the office to make an initial determination.

"This rush to trademark was entirely expected and predictable because this is what everybody does," said Ron Coleman, a trademark attorney and author of a popular trademark blog. "The irony is too rich."

Coleman predicted the New York protesters would prevail because they've been using the phrase the longest. Nonetheless, he questioned how the trademark could be managed by a group claiming to be leaderless.

"Who has authority to speak on behalf of the trademark," Coleman asked.

In the meantime, several businesses and merchandise vendors aren't waiting for the trademark office.

Ray Agrinzone, a clothing designer, launched theoccupystore.com earlier this month. The site offers t-shirts, hoodies and even gift certificates.

Agrinzone said he intends to donate 10 percent of profits to the Occupy Wall Street organizers. He said he has lost money so far, but still plans donate about $100 over the weekend. He said he will propose to organizers that a section of Zuccotti Park be turned into a merchandise zone for the benefit of the movement.

He said he has received hateful tweets and email from people opposed to his store and plans to profit from the Occupy demonstrations.

"There's nothing wrong with turning a profit," Agrinzone said. "I don't think that's what this is all about."

Further, he said that fashion can help with the movement's goals.

"There is no better way to spread the message of revolution than through clothes," Agrinzone said.

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