Show the Competition That You Know Trademarks Better

By: Matthew C. Schmidt

These days, it’s hard to know just how many brand names and trademarks are out there, and that can make for some challenging writing and editing for your organization.

Beyond news articles and profile pieces, writers and editors are faced with making sure that brand names and trademarks are used properly in press releases, ad copy, marketing brochures and annual reports, just to name a few. As more of this content finds its way to the online world, so too does the need for a greater commitment to using brand names and registered trademarks properly.

Back in the days of print-only, you typically had an idea of where your writing was published, and a fair idea of who was reading it. But that’s all changed today; everything that you write and edit is now distributed and multiplied on the Internet, and you may never know just how many people you are reaching – an amazing accomplishment, but one that holds new responsibility.

And part of that new responsibility is being able to use all of the brands and trademarks out there accurately, something that will distinguish you from the competition.

Using trademarks properly in all media is one of the single best ways to let audiences know the differences between generic items and products protected with registered trademarks. It also shows that you’re more sophisticated than your competitors.

A trademark is any word, name, symbol or device, or any combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods among businesses.

A distinctive trademark allows a business to build public goodwill and brand reputation in the goods or services it sells. And consumers rely on these unique and noticeable trademarks as an indication of a good or service that is authentic to
a specific maker or service provider.

Many times, reporters, journalists, and editors will find themselves asking about the appropriate way to use a trademark.
It is essential to use trademarks properly, because they not only carry the weight of a particular brand, but also because they help the audience understand the level of quality associated with a product or service.

Without proper usage, a well-known brandowner may be seriously misrepresented to the very consumers with whom they have spent years establishing trust through quality. Readers rely on trustworthy publications for accurate and factual information, and they also rely on trademarks to note the authenticity of a good or service.

Because it is important that trademarks be used properly in print and other media, the International Trademark Association (INTA), based in New York City, has developed guidelines to provide a few easy-to-follow rules concerning proper trademark use for the media, publishing professionals, and the public.

As an editor or publisher, when you are faced with a questionable trademark usage situation, ask yourself if it passes the “ACID” test of proper trademark use. Ask if it is an:

Identification or Status

Trademarks are adjectives. They are not nouns, and they are not verbs.

A trademark should always be used as an adjective qualifying a generic noun that defines the product or service. A trademark is a company brand name, not a product or service itself. As adjectives, trademarks should not be used as plurals or in the possessive form, unless the trademark itself is plural or possessive (such as 1-800-FLOWERS, MCDONALD’S or LEVI’S).

Are these important distinctions? Yes. Think of the following:

Aspirin. Elevator. Kerosene.
Corn Flakes. Yo-Yo.

Each of these well-known product names was once a famous trademark with rights exclusively owned by a company. Today, due to misuse of the marks, they are merely generic product names with no accompanying trademark rights. Such trademark “ghosts” serve as historic reminders of what can happen to trademarks if the public comes to regard a brand name as the generic name of a product.

In this context, it is important to note another significant distinction: Trade names and trademarks are not the same. Although many companies use their trade names as trademarks, trade names are corporate or business names and are proper nouns, not adjectives.

Consequently, trade names can be used in the possessive form (for example, “Reebok’s newest line of athletic shoes is for children.”) and need not be followed by generic nouns that define a product or service (for example, “These athletic shoes are made by Reebok.”).

When using a trade name, it is not appropriate to use a trademark symbol.

Businesses use many styles to represent their trademarks. That’s why it is important that your references to a particular mark be accurate and consistent, i.e., the mark should be represented the same way each time.

For example, if a mark is represented in all capital letters, you should consistently use all capital letters when referencing that mark. This has the desired effect of emphasizing that the term is indeed a trademark, not merely another word in the text.

To consistently identify trademarks, an international system of demarcation
has been established. These symbols are widely understood to represent trademarks and service marks, and highlight the importance of properly noting
intellectual property.

In many countries, the TM symbol is
recognized as identifying an unregistered trademark.

In North America and several other countries, the SM symbol is similarly used to identify an unregistered service mark (a mark used in connection with the company’s services rather than with its goods).

Many countries have also adopted the ® symbol to identify a registered trademark or service mark. Other proper forms of notice for registered trademarks in the United States include: “Registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office” and “Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off.”

Certain countries have other symbols and designations, including “Marca Registrada”or “MR” in some countries where Spanish is the dominant language, and “Marque Déposée,” “Marque de Commerce,” or their abbreviations, “MD” and “MC,” in some countries where French is the dominant language.

Marking practices vary from country to country and, logically, marking should be in the local language(s) or an otherwisemeaningful way to your readers and/or the people in the country in which the products or services are advertised and sold.

Generally, it is not necessary to mark everyoccurrence of a trademark in an advertise-ment or other promotional
materials but, at a minimum, this identification should occur at least once in each piece of printed matter, either the first time the mark is used or with the most prominent use of the mark.

When in doubt, it is better to “over-mark.” The purpose of a trademark is to alert the public to the ownership of the mark, and it is one of the primary ways to affirmatively protect a mark.

Trademarks should always be distinguished from surrounding text. In running text, for example, trademarks are often distinguished by using capital letters or italics.

In addition, the generic noun that defines the product or service should be used immediately after the trademark name at least once in each separate written or broadcast communication, preferably the first time that the trademark appears in the text.

Additional emphasis can be given to trade-marks by using the word “brand” after themark and/or by using one of the acceptable symbols that indicate trademark status, as mentioned in the “Identification” section above.

ZUNE mp3 players FUJIFILM®cameras
HP brand notebooks Mizuno golf clubs

Trademarks are becoming more prevalent and widely used on the Internet in the form of Website addresses, and brand owners and consumers alike are finding new threats as they navigate the onlineworld. Unfortunately, there are
criminals online who are taking advantage of consumers by illegally misusing trademarks for their own personal gain.

That’s why it is so important to use trademarks properly in all media, especially knowing that consumers will inevitably read your work and may use your description in an online search or through direct navigation in the Website address bar. It’s clear that trademark usage and online protection intersect at some points on the Internet, and education and prevention are the best safeguards that can be used to avoid these potentially dangerous encounters.

Cybersquatters target businesses and consumers by registering Internet domainnames (such as and that are confusingly similar to legally protected company names and internationally recognized trademarks.

Cybersquatters employ a variety of deceptive practices to entrap Internet users and to defraud companies.
These techniques include:

TYPOSQUATTING – the use of common Internet domain name misspellings to draw users away from their intended

PHISHING – the use of fraudulent emails to divert traffic to Websites for the purposes of soliciting personal financial information.

This alarming trend affects everyone who uses the Internet, including children who may be misdirected to adult-only sites when they innocently mistype a brand name into their browsers.

Once misdirected through such
deceptive practices, consumers can be bombarded with advertisements, pornographic material, unlawful spyware and even harmful computer viruses.

In the end, these tactics can generate revenue for cybersquatters through
pay-per-click (PPC) advertisements or through illegal scams based on stolen sensitive consumer information, including Social Security, and personal bank and credit card account numbers.

Cybersquatters are targeting well-known brand owners and consumers more and more. The public relies on genuine Websites for a safe online experience, and INTA is working to protect that experience through public relations campaigns and consumer education.


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