Angelita V. Menchaca
Contrary to popular belief, trademark and servicemark symbols are not all-protective shields for a company’s intellectual property. While these symbols do represent a certain mount of legal protection from outside forces, often the most damaging force comes from within a company’s own walls. With such a loaded potential for self-destruction, the most viable and sensible option is education.
Even when formally registered with the government, trademarks and servicemarks are still vulnerable to misuse, misrepresentation and ownership issues that can effectively nullify any protection the symbols represent. While it is the responsibility of the trademark’s owner to protect it from those offending infringements, this is often left unchecked because of lack of knowledge about the proper use of the marks. There is more to handling them than just placing the ™, ®, or SM in the text.
Trademark Usage Basics
A trademark ™ or servicemark SM is a name, symbol, word, or group of words that denotes a specific product or service of a particular company or organization. A trademark registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office can be denoted by a registration mark ®.
Application of the symbols within copy varies greatly from company to company and can range from using the symbols at every instance to not using them all. Lawyers specializing in trademark law should be consulted to find out how to properly acknowledge those trademarks you hold, as well as how to reference those of others. No matter how you decide to indicate them, the method should be applied consistently throughout all your literature and display features. A good idea is to make your company’s prescribed usage preference readily available in the company style guide so all employees will be aware of your policy.
Trademark Usage Guidelines
The following are general guidelines for trademark usage. A trademark lawyer should be consulted for specifics.
Trademarks are adjectives, not nouns. A trademark is basically a modifier that describes the product category. For example: Quaker Oats oatmeal, Kodak film, Pepsi cola. For emphasis, the word brand can be added, as in Mike and Ike brand flavored candies. Consistent use as an adjective will protect the trademark from becoming a generic term and you losing your rights over it.
Don’t use trademarks as possessives. As stated above, trademarks are adjectives and should not be used otherwise—it’s dangerous. Using them as possessives, i.e. “BAND-AID’s new butterfly bandage”, turns them into nouns and again, creates risk for turning your trademark into a generic term.
Don’t use trademarks as verbs. Again, trademarks are adjectives. Verbing them creates opportunity for losing your specialization. For example, Xerox almost lost their trademark when people began consistently using the name as a verb. “I’ll be done Xeroxing these documents in five minutes.” Only after a long and expensive public education effort did Xerox manage to save their trademark by getting people to understand that what they were doing was Xerox copying.
Don’t use a trademark as a plural. If you need to pluralize your product, make the noun plural. Using the above example, instead of “Bring the Xeroxs to the manager’s meeting,” replace that with, “Bring the Xerox copies to the manager’s meeting.”
Spell a trademark as it is registered. Believe it or not, this makes a difference, even down to the capitalization and font. If the trademark was officially registered in all caps, spell it in all caps all the time. If the trademark is registered in a specific font style (bolded, italicized, etc.), be sure to present it this way consistently.
These guidelines should also be remembered when creating a brand name for a product. Remember that, if used properly, the brand name and product category will be used in conjunction with one another and so should be complementary.
Commit to memory these basic guidelines and you will save yourself a lot of trouble in the future. Not only on public education efforts and lawyer’s fees, but your own sanity and the reputation of your company.
To learn more about trademarks and copyrights, see Trademarks and Copyrights--Protect Your Assets.
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