Challenge,  Licensing


Something to Learn…

At the Licensing Expo, you often hear about trademarks. And just about every writer I know has no real understanding about trademarks. Sadly, fiction writers know little to nothing about copyright, let alone a trademark.

Trademark is something that you have been making money on. It is a business tool to protect something you have been making money on, such as a business name.

So here are some really, really basic things a writer needs to understand without me writing a book trying to explain the details. (The TRADEMARK book by Fishman from LOLO Press will give you a basic, bare-bones start, which is all you need to start, actually. Common Law in the trademark area is so complex, it just turns into a giant blur.)


1… Trademarks can either be strong or weak or somewhere in the middle. WMG Publishing is a very weak mark for a billion reasons. Pulphouse Publishing Inc is a strong mark for a different billion reasons. We have been making money fairly consistently since 1987 with the brand Pulphouse. It is well protected and established.

2… In the United States, the first to use a trademark wins. Making consistent money wins over someone new making no money.

3… Registration of Trademarks is a fools game and can cause you more troubles than you get benefits in return. But sometimes you just have to do it. That is when real problems start.

4… There is a national US registration of trademark under the Lanham Act, all 50 US States can also register trademarks, every country on the planet can register trademarks, often in many different jurisdictions inside each country. Just because you registered a mark in Idaho does not mean it is protected in any way in Spain. Just saying. And don’t forget there are a lot of categories to register a copyright. You got to put it in the right one.

5… You are responsible for your own trademark searches. Costs money to have it done, or you can do it through TESS. Either way is far, far from accurate.

6… Know the difference between a trademark and a service mark.

And so much more.

So, the point of focusing on this stupidity of trademark (and there is a ton more, trust me), at the Licensing Expo you will hear talk about this sort of thing. And you may, in a licensing agreement, be forced to get a trademark on something you are trying to protect. You will need an IP attorney to do that, but spending some time over the next year or two, as you learn copyright, trying to understand some trademark basics as well will help you.

In other words, this is one of the learning curves I mention on heading into Licensing.


  • T Thorn Coyle

    I filed some of this info away when you talked about it in a class a couple years ago. Thanks for the nudge to go over it before next year’s expo.

    This brings to mind the foolishness in the indie pub world in 2018 when an author pissed off a bunch of other authors by trademarking something that could not be defended in the first place–a common word–and threatened others for using her trademarked word, including authors who had previously published books with that word in the title.
    The author went so far as to issue takedowns on Amazon and Audible, who then accused the other authors of infringement. This person also tried to trademark the word in the particular font used on their book covers, and got the smack down from the font creator.

    Needless to say, after all the drama, which negatively impacted more than one author, the judge ruled the trademark as weak.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, the willful stupidity of some authors just never ceases to amaze me. You would think that if a person is stating and intending to make a living from writing, the least that person could do was to learn the basics of the profession. Uhh, nope.