Everyone is abuzz about trademarks and wordmarks. Everyone has heard about what they are and who the cocky author is behind the recent trademark/wordmark scandal/publicity stunt(IMO). Opinions are high and all over the map.
When I wrote BiaAtlas, Prophecy and even in my newest venture(Not yet named), I plunked in some words that are common but trademarked. They are brand names that crept into our everyday vocabulary and replaced the actual word or terms.
Why did this happen? Branding. A company invents a product or property, and those companies usually create a name or combine words to describe the product or property. These are generally not words that already exist in the dictionary and are usually not already used.
My mini-rant is that cocky is a word that has long been in the dictionary, it belongs to the world, not one person. End mini-rant.
This is a subject I researched a long time ago and have blogged about before. What are the most common trademarked words we use?
Now, what about properties or intellectual properties?
Intellectual property refers to things created by the mind such as writing, art, inventions, symbols, images and names used in business(includes publishing and selling books)
There are two parts
Copyright which covers any literary work, movies, music and all forms of art like sculptures, painting and photography.
The second is Industrial Property, (hang in there, I know this is dull as concrete.) This is patents for inventions, trademarks and designs etc. So regards to writing, we tend to want to refer to things like ‘hulk smash’ when describing out of control rage resulting in destruction. Companies that own properties include things such as:
Superman, kryptonite etc. Spiderman, spidey senses Groot, I am Groot
Anything Disney, Mickey Mouse, let your conscience be your guide. G.I. Joe, Yo Joe! Knowing is half the battle. Transformers, Optimus Prime, Transform and roll out.
You get the idea.
So the big question, can I use Trademarked words in my writing? Yes and no. It’s best to steer clear of Intelectual properties like Marvel, DC, Hasbro and Disney etc. as they will actively protect their product because they are generally trademarked and copyrighted(Intelectual properties). Now I can name a character Olaf, but he can’t resemble a boneless dimwitted, all-heart snowman. Can I use Kryptonite? Probably not a good idea without permission, but it has been done.
Now to the beefy part. Wordmark or Trademarked words are okay to use with provisos. Because laws protect them. There are four parts of trademark law.
Trademark Tarnishment Trademark Infringement Trademark Dilution
and Trademark Defamation
For anyone wondering, Ms.Cocky is likely looking to use Infringement. This is the unauthorized use of a name that can create confusion for the original good or service. Claiming to be protecting readers from buying the wrong book with a similar title… um… seriously? I actually bought A wrong book once because several authors had the same title. I don’t need protecting, I needed to open my eyes and read the author’s name. There is a lot more to the laws, but I won’t bore you to tears.
Basically, as long as the Trademarked word is within the body of work(excluding title or book cover), if it’s used in a positive way that doesn’t detract, or slander, or dilute the brand in any way it’s likely fine.
For example, if I were to write,
“These Band@id’s suck, they never work and always fall off or trap the dirt in.”
That would be Defamation and Tarnishment of the product specifically.
If I wrote.
The Band-Aid came off in the rushing water, floating away allowing my blood to trickle freely. I need a new one.
I applied a Band-Aid to keep the contaminated forest dirt out.
The Band-Aid held the coolant in the hose perfectly.
That’s fine because it’s product placement and free advertising. I would be using the name BandAid to refer to their own product, not my own creation and not saying anything about the product in any way negative.
Now companies like BandAid(And many others) don’t like their brand being used in general terms or what is known as Trademark Dilution.
Where can I find bandaids?
Seems innocent, BUT even basic spell check says nope. Apply the correct marks to the trademarked word. The sentence needs to read.
Where can I find Band-Aids?
By capitalizing it and adding the dash makes all the difference. Still not sure? Contact the company and ask.
This is important when thinking about a company such as Apple. If referring to their product the A must be capitalized. If referring to the fruit you eat, plain lowercase will do just fine.
I would be up $#!t creek without a paddle if I couldn’t use half those words. A lot of them show up in my books such as Trampoline, Dumpster and velcro to name a few. I know I use Frisbee and popsicle because I grew up with those words describing that specific item and they were never called anything else.
Long story short, if you want to use a brand name or trademarked word in your story follow some common sense. If you’re going to use it negatively, or slander, put down or tarnish the product, don’t use it. Not only is that not cool your book isn’t the place to take up a product grievance. If you really need to bash a product or product type, make up a brand or company, or use the generic term for it. I try to avoid the obvious ones, but if I want to brand my own product(and I do) in my story then I’ll do this:
“I applied the ______ sir, it’s similar to an adhesive bandage without glue.”
Hmm… A thesaurus and a quick Google search (or internet search) will help.
Grip-strip? no that’s a flooring product Stick Strip? Nope, that’s hair extensions Sticky Strip? Ugh, that’s a Bug Catcher Bindband? …that works
“I applied the Bindband sir, it’s similar to an adhesive bandage without glue.”
All I need to do is describe it when I first introduce it, and Voila I now have my own brand to use in my book. FYI a thesaurus can be a great way to create a new brand or word for something. I’ll actually talk more about names and brand creation in a later post.
I recommend you check out Nel’s post about Copyright. COPYRIGHT CONVERSATION While there check out her other posts too.
My advice about trademarked or Wordmark words
Do a find & search for the most common and make sure they are not being slandered in any way. If you’re not sure, contact the company holding the rights. Be safe if still unsure and find the generic term or create your own brand for the story.