About a month ago, I had the idea to develop a line of apparel for the electoral college – celebrating the (non-existent) academic and extra-curricular departments within the college.

I ran the idea past a bunch of people.  Nearly everyone liked the idea.  I’m always juggling a lot of ideas at the same time, but I had enough positive feedback to greenlight this idea.

Since my art schools are best described as “pre-kindergarten”, the first step was to work with a graphic designer.  I chose Peter of LogosForWebsites.com.  Not surprisingly, Peter’s specialty is designing logos for websites.  I made initial contact with him to verify that his graphics would work for apparel (the biggest issue being the physical size of the image).  He assured me that this was not a problem and told me that he’d be able to get started on a certain date.

I spent a few more days fleshing out the design elements.  Then I went back to LogosForWebsites, paid for the logo, and handed off the specs to Peter.  Peter quickly responded, letting me know that a few people had skipped ahead of me in line by paying for their logo after I had made my initial contact with him.  That’s perfectly fair.  The other people paid, so they deserved to jump ahead of me.

Peter was able to quickly develop the logo, with minimal revisions.  I was quite happy with the logo. Peter is very easy to work with and has very good turnaround times.

I slapped the logo onto a shirt and developed about 15 different designs – Electoral College Intramural Luge, Athletic Department, Cheerleading, Glee Club, etc.

I chose Zazzle over its competitors mostly because it’s very easy to create similar designs by simply changing the text.  This was a big requirement – I can spin up a new design in about a minute.

Within the first week, we had sold five shirts.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll point out that I bought two shirts, Lazy Man bought two, and Martin Kelly bought one.  Still, there was good buzz building, and I was confident of some future sales, especially as the election drew near. I thought the shirts turned out well, and the quality (Hanes) of the actual shirts was good.

About a week later, it came crashing down.  Zazzle yanked my designs after a complaint from a trademark holder.  Did my logo too closely resemble another logo?  No – it was removed because it contained the text “Electoral College”. 

Yes, someone has a trademark on the use of the term “Electoral College” on t-shirts and other apparel (here’s the info on the patent and trademark web site.)

I  was stunned.  Electoral colleges date back to the first millennium A.D.  How could someone trademark a common, everyday term and exclude anyone else from using it on a t-shirt?  I wasn’t the only one to have designs pulled from Zazzle.  Some of the other designs merely mention the term on the text of the shirt.

I was greatly  annoyed at what I considered to be an abuse of the system, but I went back to the drawing board.  I asked Peter if he could tweak the logo to remove the text Electoral College from it and create a few versions of the new designs. Within an hour (I said he was fast), I was ready to go again.

I put up new designs on the site.  This time, the college in question was Electoral State.

Then I did something to test Zazzle.  Within the item descriptions, I referred to the school as Electoral State College and within the “tags” (search criteria), I use Electoral College.  You’ll note that the trademark is quite limited in scope, and I’d argue that neither of these uses violates the trademark.

Within days, the design had been yanked again.  When I made my case to Zazzle, the response was that I was not allowed to use the term “electoral college” in the image, text, description, or tags.  They seem to be granting the complaining party far more rights than the trademark itself conveys.  This seems strange, since I’m a customer and the complaining party is not.

I’ve put up a new set of designs, without using the offending text in the descriptions or tags.  Perhaps the third time’s the charm, but the dream has lost much of its shine at this point.  One thing is for certain – if Zazzle yanks these designs, I’m closing down the shop and going elsewhere. It’s even possible that they’ll throw me out because of my contentious responses. I stay professional in the responses, but take a very adversarial tone.

Where can you find my designs?  Go to ElectoralCollegeGear.com.  Wherever I end up (Zazzle or somewhere else), this URL will redirect to the current store.  Want a shirt for the underwater basket weaving team instead of the cheerleading squad?  Click the customize button to easily change the text.