Trademark guidelines make for unclear copy

In many big companies, intellectual property protection – trademarks and registered marks – drive product naming. I’ve worked on several projects in November that suffered from overwrought names.  Some examples (not necessarily from my work):

  • Intel® Centrino® Pro™ processor technology
  • The 2007 Microsoft Office system
  • Adobe® Acrobat® 8 Professional software

The problem is that there is little flexibility in the way writers can use these phrases. In some cases, a five-word name with three trademark bugs has to be used EVERY time the product is referenced. No abbreviation or variation is allowed at all. I suppose part of the challenge of my work is to deal with this and still turn out reasonable copy.

I’d love to hear from a IP lawyer about why this happens. Some companies seem to have wieldy product names and still protect their rights. MacBook, iPod, OS X or iPhone anyone?

(In fact Apple’s pith may explain an odd phenomenon. I have never understood why people call them “AppleMac”.  Perhaps they need more words than Apple give them.)

I’m going to change my name. From now on, I want to be known as “the 2008 Matthew Stibbe Writing™ system Ultimate Edition® with Marketing Plus Technology®.

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16 Responses to Trademark guidelines make for unclear copy

  1. David Bradley December 6, 2007 at 10:42 am #

    As far as I’m concerned, how I write trademarked names is down to housestyle. I certainly don’t include ® or ™ or use any formating unless the magazine or paper accepts that as part of its housestyle.

    Legally, as long as it’s got a first capital letter the company cannot complain as that makes it a proper noun and that’s enough to avoid the fate of hoover, aspirin, and googling (although Google would beg to differ and is still defending it’s capital G and rightly so)

    db

  2. John McGarvey December 6, 2007 at 11:27 am #

    This is one of my pet hates – it probably comes from having to cope with Microsoft product names in the past. All those ™s and ®s do nothing for the readability of text. And they look hideous.

    I blame the lawyers.

  3. Tom Chandler December 6, 2007 at 3:50 pm #

    Sadly, I witnessed the rise of that most hideous of naming conventions — Excessive InterWord CapitaliZation SynDrome.

    How many good product names went under the wheels of this grammatically out-of-control bus?

    Distantly,
    The CopyWriter UnderGround

  4. Bruce Pilgrim December 7, 2007 at 3:20 am #

    I worked with a corporate lawyer who tried to get me to insert trademarks into quotes cited in case studies, as in:

    “We’ve been using Widget(R) software to cure genital warts with great success.”

    I explained to her that people don’t actually speak that way, but she always insisted. So I ignored her.

  5. Jacob Skir December 8, 2007 at 9:59 am #

    Matthew,
    the great way to invent a new name is to think about your own personal name.
    What is the Google’s term “PageRank”? What does it stand for? Does it stand for the word “page” (= a page of an Internet site)? Or for the name of the Google’s cofounder Larry Page?
    At the end of the day, it makes no difference. You invent a new word pointing both to your personal name and to the technical/scientific/political term.
    Another great example is the memorable PR move of Russian tsar Peter the Great. He founded the city of Saint Petersburg in 1703. What’s the official explanation? That it was named after Saint Peter the Apostle. Then why not to name it after Saint Paul? Because Peter himself named it.
    A fresh Internet example is Craigslist (a centralized network of online classified advertisements) founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark.
    When you invent a new term, try to think about your own personal name.

  6. David Bradley December 10, 2007 at 3:37 pm #

    Tom, shouldn’t that be IntraWord Capitalisation(TM)

    db

  7. Jonathan Pasky December 19, 2007 at 5:30 pm #

    Matthew,

    As an IP attorney, I understand your frustration. Constant “marking”, as it is called, is used to give notice to the consuming public that a particular word or symbol is being claimed as a trademark/servicemark (™) and/or is registered with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (®).

    Sometimes this can get out of hand in marketing copy. While companies understandably want to protect their marks, one or two very conspicuous uses of ™ or ® should be sufficient.

    Trademarks/servicemarks always need to be used as an adjective decribing the product or service: so “Adobe® Acrobat® 8 Professional software” or “Adobe® software” is ok, but calling it “Adobe Acrobat” nominalizes “Acrobat” and dilutes the trademark. Savvy marketing/PR/copy experts will give proper notice but keep the attorneys and brand managers happy with minimal, but very noticeable, proper notice in the copy.

  8. Janet Ellis December 4, 2008 at 6:46 am #

    The trademarking symbols are completely optional. You don’t have to use them at all.

  9. james January 20, 2009 at 11:38 am #

    I saw http://www.badlanguage.net/trademark-guidelines-make-for-unclear-copy and wanted to mention a useful site: http://www.FreePatentsOnline.com

    It provides free patent searching, free PDF downloading, allows annoting documents and sharing them, and free alerts for new documents.

    If you have a spot, a link to let your users know abou the site would be great.

  10. thenakedlistener July 27, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    As a trained but non-practising lawyer, here are the guidelines I used to give to my editor:

    1. (a) If it is for straight editorial use with minimal legal purposes, then leave out the marking symbols. The purpose of the copy and surrounding text will be enough to give context in most cases.

    1. (b) Failing (a) above, use marking symbols on first reference and leave out on second references, depending on the nature and presentation of the section of text.

    2. If it is for corporate or legal use, use the marking symbols. Do not go against lawyers’ recommendations, for they know the reasons why, not for us to question why.

    Just my twopence worth.

    • Matthew Stibbe July 27, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

      Yes, I think that’s probably good practical advice. But trademark bugs still make for ugly copy.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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