Clothing Company Wants To Trademark 'Yinzer,' But Says Pittsburghers Shouldn't Panic

Dec 20, 2018

Columbus, Ohio-based clothing company Homage has applied for trademark of the word "Yinzer" for apparel. The company has a store in East Liberty, and on their website sells shirts and baby onesies with "Yinzer" printed on front. 

Homage filed for the "Yinzer" trademark in September of this year. If the company is granted the registration, intellectual property lawyer Gwen Acker Wood of Acker Wood IP Law said it could send a cease and desist order to vendors who use the word.

"And hopefully, that company would stop using the name as soon as possible," Acker Wood said. "But if not, they can sue in federal court for statutory damages for infringement."

"Yinzer" was actually trademarked for shirts in 2012 by an individual in Glendale, Calif. In an email, Homage Founder and CEO Ryan Vesler said the company created a licensing agreement with the registrant that included quarterly royalty payments. The original registrant let the trademark lapse, and Homage filed for the trademark to avoid "legal limbo."

"Our intention in filing for the trademark was never to aggressively enforce its use," Vesler wrote. "It was simply a decision to create some continuity with the intellectual property and continue selling shirts."

"Yinzer" is an omnipresent word in Pittsburgh, and it makes frequent appearances on shirts sold by small shops and street vendors. University of Pittsburgh Law Professor Michael Madison said it isn't unusual that someone would try to trademark the term.

"Ordinary words and phrases can be subject to trademark rights, even common words and phrases and things that are linguistically distinctive such as 'yinzer'," Madison said. 

Even if Homage wanted to go after vendors that used "Yinzer," it would be hard.

"You're dealing with a word that's part of Pittsburgh's heritage," Acker Wood said. "I would think that it would be quite difficult to go after everyone who's going to be printing that on a shirt, especially if they're small vendors."

Vesler said the company did not mean to offend anyone or cause controversy by applying for the trademark.

"We've reached out to a Pittsburgh area non-profit with the hope of assigning the registration to them," he wrote. "So that royalty payments could benefit the community."