Have you ever wondered whether you could trademark your book or your brand? According to 15 USC 1127, “a trademark is any word, name, symbol, or design, or any combination thereof, used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from those of another and to indicate the source of the goods.” Trademarks are source identifiers that help consumers know the difference between various providers of goods and services (for example, the Apple logo signifies you’re buying an Apple product when you’re shopping for computers or phones).
As an author you may be building up your brand, and you’re curious if you can protect yourself. You may wonder whether you can trademark your title, characters, or pen name? What about your domain name? Read below for some basic information.
Titles for single works generally do not meet the legal qualifications for trademark registrations. That’s because an individual title usually doesn‘t distinguish or identify the source of goods from another. The title merely describes what is in the book.
However, this doesn’t mean a single title can’t ever be trademarked. Famous titles that have “secondary meaning” in legal parlance (basically, the title has gained a certain level of recognition among the general public) can be trademarked (for example, The Great Gatsby) since it likely identifies the author or publisher. The same goes for famous series (for example, the Harry Potter series) since it can act as source identifiers of JK Rowling and Scholastic.
Author Names and Characters
The same logic that applies to famous titles and series also applies to author names (pseudonyms) and characters. For example, Harry Potter has reached a level of notoriety that the Harry Potter character is associated with JK Rowling and the publisher Scholastic. The same goes for Rowling herself. When you think of her name, you automatically think of Harry Potter.
Any title, character, or author name that receives trademark protection can also potentially be trademarked as merchandise. I’m sure you’ve seen the millions that the Harry Potter brand reaps every year by selling various toys and merchandise.
Relatedly, domain names that identifies a certain product or service that is used in commerce can be trademarked. For example, Dan Brown’s domain name www.danbrown.com can be trademarked.
Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. In addition, this article concerns US law only.
Joseph Perry is a publishing attorney and literary agent at The Law Offices of Joseph J. Perry, P.C. and Perry Literary, Inc. respectively. As an attorney, Joseph counsels clients in the publishing industry, where among other things, he drafts, reviews, negotiates various publishing agreements, and conducts pre-publication review of manuscripts. As an agent he represents bestselling cookbook authors, athletes, musicians, journalists, influencers, academics, and more. You can reach Joseph at JosephPerryLaw.com or PerryLiterary.com. Joseph obtained his Juris Doctor from St. John’s University School of Law and a Master of Arts and Bachelor of Arts in English from St. Bonaventure University. He is a graduate of New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute.
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