Brand OWS: Ownership war looms

Occupy Wall Street members take part in New York's annual Halloween parade in New York, October 31, 2011 (AFP Photo / Emmanuel Dunand)
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.

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 sought 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 fundamental goals.

On October 24, 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 to critics who might accuse the movement’s founders of hypocrisy by attempting to profit from 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.  "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.”

The company, which has no political connection with the movement, is only interested in the business the trademark can generate.  

It will take three months for the UPSTO to determine who has the right to the name.

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, thesmokinggun.com reports.

And while no one can lay claim to OWS, once the USPTO makes its decision, the name “Occupy Wall Street” will most definitely have an owner, if not the movement itself.