Skip to main content

Hitting the Mark

A little R with a circle around it—and a world of questions attached: Here's what you need to know about using brand names in your stories.

You want your story or novel to be as realistic as possible, right? So it might seem appropriate for your character, Bud (who likes his fair share of beer), to have a certain favorite brand. But then, you wonder, is it legal to include the name brand in your writing? You begin to imagine faceless men from a large corporation dressed in impeccable suits, knocking on your front door, ready to serve you papers. Suddenly, your story comes to a screeching halt.

A trademark is a symbol, word, picture, phrase or any combination of these that a company uses to associate itself with its product. Although symbols and designs may also be trademarked, words are the most common form. Companies want to keep their trademarks viable to make sure there's no question as to who owns them.

What you should know is this: You can use a trademark in your story. But while it's legal to have your character drink such-and-such beverage, you'll have to respect certain guidelines to steer clear of that hair-raising word—infringement.

To avoid misleading readers about company sponsorship or ownership, don't overuse the trademark in your text. Also, spell the trademark correctly and don't alter it in any way. That means no hyphenation, pluralization or abbreviation. Finally, trademarks must stand out from the rest of the text—capitalizing the word is sufficient, and it's the least intrusive method.

The ® means that the company has registered the trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, also known as the USPTO, in Washington, D.C. A trademark remains registered for 20 years, after which it may be renewed. If you see a ™ beside an item, this denotes an unregistered trademark, but the company using it still has exclusive rights to the trademark. (For more information on symbols and definitions, visit the International Trademark Association at www.inta.org.)

It's not necessary to include the ® beside a trademark, even if it occupies a place of high visibility, as in a heading or title (think of such books as The Devil Wears Prada). In all other references following, it's not necessary to include the symbol, but you'll still need to set it apart from other text by capitalizing it. And should you decide to use a recurring trademark in your novel, it would be wise to include a disclaimer stating that the trademark is being used without sponsorship and/or without permission of the trademark owner.

When you use a trademark in your story, make sure you do so responsibly. Don't pepper every page of your story with its use and be sure to spell it correctly and capitalize it. And, more important, don't fear the men in impeccable suits.

Writer's Digest September/October 2022 Cover

Writer's Digest September/October 2022 Cover Reveal

Writer's Digest is excited to announce our Sept/Oct 2022 issue featuring our Annual Literary Agent Roundup, an interview with NYT-bestselling YA horror novelist Tiffany D. Jackson, and articles about writing sinister stories.

Your Story #120

Your Story #120

Write the opening line to a story based on the photo prompt below. (One sentence only.) You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

5 Tips for Writing as a Parent

5 Tips for Writing as a Parent

Author Sarah Grunder Ruiz shares how she fits writing into her life and offers 5 tips on how to achieve a sustainable writing life as a parent.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 621

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an animal poem.

Why Is This Love Scene Here? How To Write Compelling Love Scenes

Why Is This Love Scene Here? How To Write Compelling Love Scenes

Not sure which way to turn when writing intimate scenes? Author Jo McNally shares how to write compelling love scenes that make sense for the story you’re writing.

How Can I Help You?

How Can I Help You?

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, your character is a high-end retail salesperson.

Phong Nguyen: On Freedom To Invent in Historical Fiction

Phong Nguyen: On Freedom To Invent in Historical Fiction

Award-winning author Phong Nguyen discusses his lifelong dream of writing his new historical fiction novel, Bronze Drum.

Historical Fiction Authors Don’t Expect Their Characters’ Battles To Appear in Modern Headlines, but Here We Are

Historical Fiction Authors Don’t Expect Their Characters’ Battles To Appear in Modern Headlines, but Here We Are

What happens to historical fiction when history repeats itself? Author Addison Armstrong discusses writing about the past and seeing it reflected in the present.

From Script

Art and Independence (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, exclusive interviews with Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” television writer Vanessa Benton, Allegoria writer-director Spider One, Hulu’s Prey screenwriter Patrick Aison and director Dan Trachtenberg, and more!