From Tragedy to T-shirts: Trayvon Martin Promotional Products Raise Questions
Victor Baranowski, patent attorney with Schmeiser, Oslen and Watts, resisted that interpretation and told the International Business Times that such trademark applications may be granted for the purpose of protecting an image rather than for generating profit. "If you trademark the name, that's going to prevent others from doing it and potentially capitalizing on it in a negative way or a different way than what you want... in a case like this, there's going to be others who would want to," he said. "So does she want to let somebody else do something with her son's name or does she want it for herself?" Days later, The Smoking Gun revealed that an unrelated Los Angeles musician had also filed a trademark application for the same phrases, for use on hooded sweatshirts.
All of these events have direct or indirect associations to the promotional product industry. Florida's Sun Sentinel newspaper reported on a number of South Florida printers "filling hundreds of requests to customize apparel with photos of Trayvon." While they may be small independent businesses, somewhere along the supply chain, many of those vendors source from industry wholesalers, suppliers or distributors.
But is there anything wrong with that? Many of the articles published talk of the commercialization and commoditization of Trayvon Martin in pejorative terms, although none articulate why it is negative. The media interprets the use of Martin's image on commercial products as ethically ambiguous while simultaneously using his image in articles for arguably the same purpose.
While the critics view those selling imprinted T-shirts as capitalizing on tragedy, those buying from the vendors do not see it in the same way. People purchasing T-shirts are doing so not to support the seller, but to support the message, and in this way the screen-printers are serving a purpose. As Donna Hoffman, marketing professor at the University of California-Riverside told Anderson in his original article, "People can start to wear their feelings and emotions. It makes sense, even if there's a profit motive. There's a legitimate interest in sharing the pain, and these products do that."