Writing How-To: Using trademarked brands in fiction.

Friday, March 22, 2013
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

2 reader comments:

  1. Tracey said...:

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

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