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Monday, December 23, 2013

A US Copy Editor's Perspective: Trademarks


For our purposes, a general definition for trademarks would be brand names, usually starting with a capital letter (exceptions are the eBay store and iPod products, for example).


Web11 gives these marks their own entry in the dictionary. Instead of listed as a part of speech (noun, verb, etc.), each is designated clearly as trademark. The only problem with this is that Web11 was issued in 2007 and a lot can happen since then. Remember trademarks can become generic, like a book whose copyright has expired then falls in the public domain.

You can visit the United States Patent & Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/ to search and confirm a trademark name. However, as you'll find out once you get there, one brand can be within several different (unrelated) markets. So your search may end up with more hits than you care to sift through.

I prefer to search the Internet for the brand's actual website. It's cleaner, quicker. If there is no Legal link, then Terms of Use should give all the trademarks related to your searched-for term.


Per 16CMS 8.152, the wording of this rule discourages using trademarks (unless you own them):
Should be capitalized if they must be used. A better choice is to substitute a generic term when available.

As a copy editor within the world of traditional publishing, I would suggest not inputting trademarks in your work for various reasons. Some trademark owners are very strict in the utilization of their brand, requiring it be an adjective, not a noun or a verb. Some trademark holders refuse its use by others in general, whereas some brand owners are more limited in this restricted approach. However, you do not want to find out about these conditions after you have already added the brand name(s) in your book(s). So I would suggest checking first with your local patent and trademark attorney, unless you have written authorization from the rightful trademark owner for your particular application of their brand name, before typing that mark in your manuscript.

From purely a copy editor's viewpoint, it takes time to fact-check trademarks. You would think it would be a quick job, but it's not. First, read the authorized website. Second, if the brand involves a number, you may find it both ways: numeric and written out, even within its authorized website. Third, oftentimes on the Net, many sites refer to these in all caps to avoid such fact-checking enterprises. So ignore those. Fourth, many brands are very creative in their spelling, and their use of hyphens and apostrophes. If you use a trademark, make sure it is correct.

Then as a reader and an Indie author, I prefer the less-trademarks-is-more approach. The only two exceptions that immediately come to my mind would be regarding makes of carswhere clarifying a souped-up racer over the family station wagon, either generally or specifically, is always the correct way to goand guns. Otherwise a barrage of trademarks to impress me as to the wealth of a book character tends to do two things: first, it turns me off as superficial and fake (along the lines of "doth protest too much"), which has just negated the author's efforts to convince me of this fictional character's rich status. Second, it completely draws me out of the story as my focus has been diverted by a commercial mass of initially capped words. I doubt that was its creator's intent either.

Therefore, use trademarks wisely.

"If your vocation isn’t a vacation, then quit, leap, change careers."

Denise Barker, Author, Blogger, Copy Editor
Books that Build Character(s)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue.  You give him the possibility of a whole new life. Christopher Morley
The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life. Dan Zadra

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