Quick writing primer today on trademarks in fiction. While using song lyrics in your fiction without first obtaining written permission is verbotten, trademarks frequently confuse writers.

What do I mean?

For example, when you refer to the drink, it’s Coke, not coke. (Lowercase coke is if you’re referring to cocaine.) It’s a Dumpster, not a dumpster. It’s a Band-Aid, not a band-aid or a bandaid.

How do you find out the proper spelling/capitalization of a product?

In today’s internet age, the easiest way is to do a Google search for it. (See what I did there? Because “googling” it is wrong.) Just like you shouldn’t xerox something, but you can use a Xerox copier to make a copy.

There are three basic guidelines to safely using a trademarked name in a story:

1) Don’t use it as a verb.
2) Write it correctly.
3) Use it in a non-defamatory way.

Otherwise, you need to make something up. No, you don’t need to use the trademark or registered symbol for the brand name, and you don’t need to have a list in the front of the book stating who owns the trademarks.

Here are a few references on the matter:

Can I Mention Brand Name Products in My Fiction?
Use of Trademark Names in Fiction
Trademark is Not a Verb: Guidelines From a Trademark Lawyer

Writing How-To: Using trademarked brands in fiction.
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2 thoughts on “Writing How-To: Using trademarked brands in fiction.

  • March 22, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    I saw you talking about this the other day. You mentioned Mattel. Should Barbie be avoided?

  • March 22, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    @Tracey – As long as you write it correctly and aren’t using it in a disparaging way, I don’t see why.

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