The Curious Case of the Iconic “Pointy S”

Whether you are an 80s, 90s, or now kid, you are likely to have fond memories associated with practising and perfecting the “pointy S” symbol. Although the origins of the “pointy S” symbol are not quite known, the “pointy S” symbol has now been registered as a trade mark in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) by Mark May of the online shop, The S Thing.

From the records of the USPTO, it appears that Mr. May took assignment of the mark in 2017 for a nominal amount (compared to the priceless childhood memories the “pointy S” has given many of us) of USD 265. One would think that the “pointy S” would be worth more $.

The “pointy S”, as depicted below, was filed in respect of “Dresses; Pants; Shirts; Socks; T-shirts; Underwear”. The mark is described as consisting of “Geometric ‘S’ shape made up of incomplete triangles, incomplete squares, and one incomplete quadrilateral in the center of the shape.”

According to The S Thing e-commerce website and social media pages, it provides a platform for creatives to share and sell products inspired by the “pointy S” symbol. From paperclips to jewellery, the “pointy S” symbol remains iconic.

At its very core, trade mark law seeks to distinguish goods and services emanating from the proprietor of the mark, from that of others. It is apparent that Mr. May is passionate about celebrating and preserving the “pointy S” symbol. In the broad spectrum that is intellectual property, acquiring trade mark protection for a mark, with the intention to preserve (and make use of the mark) is ideal, as a trade mark registration can exist in perpetuity.

Of course, a trade mark can be an extremely valuable commercial asset. However, whether or not Mr. May would be able to effectively enforce his trade mark, remains to be seen. Given that this mark has been used for a number of decades, the “policing” of the use of the trade mark will, no doubt, be a challenging exercise. It also begs the question as to whether this trade mark could ever be protected from dilution. That being said, trade marks are territorial. A recent search of the register of trade marks in South Africa revealed that the iconic “pointy S” symbol does not appear on the register, at least not yet. The good news is that any use of the “pointy S” symbol, not as a trade mark, should be safe from trade mark infringement. It appears that South African doodlers of the iconic “pointy S” symbol can continue to doodle without fear of trade mark infringement.

Whitney Lee Govender-Williams
Associate | Trade Mark Attorney