What You Can Trademark as an Author
Have you ever thought about trademarking 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.” Basically, trademarks are source identifiers that help consumers know the difference between various providers of goods and services (for example, the Nike swoosh signifies you’re buying a Nike product when you’re shopping for sneakers).
As an author you may be building up your brand, and you’re curious if you can protect yourself. You may wonder can I trademark my title, my characters, my pen name? What about my 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 doesn‘t distinguish or identify the source of goods from another. The title merely describes what’s 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, they’ve gained a certain level of recognition among the general public) can be trademarked (for example, The Great Gatsby) since they likely identify the author or publisher. The same goes for famous series (for example, Harry Potter) since they can act as source identifiers of the author and/or publisher.
Author Names and Characters
The same logic that applies to famous titles and series also applies to author names and pseudonyms, as well as characters. For example, Harry Potter has reached a level of notoriety that the character is associated with JK Rowling and the publisher Scholastic.
It may come as no surprise that any title, character, or author name that receives trademark protection can also 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, it may not be surprising that you can register any domain name that identifies a certain product or service that is used in commerce. For example, Dan Brown’s domain name can be trademarked.
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