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Followup to: The phrase "wampum jewelry" 

18 July 2000 -- I have followed this up.

After receiving a number of reactions to the story below, I went online to find out what,
if anything, could be done about the trade marking of the phrase "wampum jewelry."
I found the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) web site and after looking around discovered an 800 (toll-free) telephone number.

The next day I called the USPTO. An automated telephone answered me. I waited and eventually got an operator. I told her I wanted to take exception to a trademark and she switched me over to an office.

Unfortunately, this office had nothing to do with trademarks. The person I talked to said I should get in touch with the Trademark Assistance Center. It was located in another building. She had no toll-free number for it.

Back to the toll-free USPTO number. I asked for the Trademark Assistance Center and, somewhat to my surprise, was switched over to it. I spoke to someone who told me that the person to talk to was out to lunch. This is the government we are dealing with.

I left a message. To my amazement after a leisurely lunch the right person returned my call.

I explained that I and a number of visitors to TheBeadSite wanted to register a protest against the trademarking of "Wampum Jewelry." He said that could be done. After the publication of a trademark in the official Gazette there was a six-month window for objecting to a registration.

Since Rounsville had registered "wampum jewelry" in 1986, that six-month window was long gone.

Was there anything else that could be done? "You could take them to court and sue them."

Unless we could get it on Judge Judy (one of several popular real-life small claims court TV programs in the US) I am not personally inclined to do this.

I agree it is a shame and a sham for this woman to have registered this term and to be so arrogant as to say if the Wampanoag want it back they can buy it from her. On the other hand, judging from the results of the web search (see below) it seems as though many people are using the term and paying no attention to her claim.

Do we sue?


The original article:

May 1, 2000: MASHPEE, Mass (Massachusetts) is the dateline on this story. It seems that Janet Rounsville of Yankee Crafters trademarked the phrase "wampum jewelry" in 1986.

Although published in the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Gazette, no one paid any attention to it until the Cape Cod Times ran an article about "wampum jewelry" made by two Native Americans and one non-native in March. Rounsville was irate, claiming that the phrase was hers alone. The paper ran a correction saying, "Wampum Jewelry is a Yankee Crafters trademark."

(Rounsville apparently doesn't have an Internet connection. A search on Google for wampum jewelry brought up 309 pages, while one for Rounsville wampum brought up none.)

Her claim has outraged the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. Chairman Glenn Marshall said, "Our language supersedes any claim she has on the word."

Judith Shapiro, a lawyer retained to fight the case, has opined, "A language is the heart of a culture and in Mashpee it is an active, live tradition which cannot be taken away."

Rounsville, one of several craftspeople in the area who make wampum beads from the quahog clam, is unrepentant. She has said, "If the tribe wants the word back, they can buy it from me."

Over 85,000 trademarks are registered every year. Sometimes the USPTO registers trademarks that are later rescinded. A case in point is the "Washington Redskins" (an American football team located in Washington, DC). Considered a disparaging phrase, it was stripped from the team on 2 April, though that is now in an appeals court.

Non-Native Americans have done enough damage to Native Americans over the last 500 years. Stealing the very words of Native Americans and suggesting that they pay to get them back is ludicrous. supports the efforts to drop wampum jewelry or any similar phrase using wampum as a trademark.

What do you think? I'd be glad to pass your opinion on to the USPTO.

Thanks to Art Einhorn


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