Writers and the Need for Copyrighting and Trademarking

For several years now, I have been focusing on world building for a series of science and speculative fiction stories, articles, and novels. While I don’t worry about anyone stealing my byline and fictional company and product names, as what has been already published is copyrighted, I’ve realized that the time has come to explore exactly what these terms mean, and to determine whether or not I need to register for marketing purposes.

Basic Definition of a Copyright

A copyright symbol looks like this: ©. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office: An Agency of the Department of Commerce’s website section, “What Are Patents, Trademarks, Servicemarks, and Copyrights?”, it “is a form of protection provided to the authors of ‘original works of authorship’ including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly.”

Copyrighting and Trademarking for Writers

In order to register a work, or collections of works, visit the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress site at copyright.gov. Registration fees begin at $35, and vary depending upon the medium of what is being registered (e.g., text, photo, etc.), the number of items, as well as the manner in which they are registered (i.e., electronic or paper filing, etc.).

Basic Definition of a Trademark

The trademark symbol looks like this: ™, and is seen alongside a variety of product names. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office: An Agency of the Department of Commerce’s website FAQ section, a trademark is basically a brand name. The section states that it “includes any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods.”

Basic Definition of a Service Mark

A service mark is the same as a trademark, according to uspto.gov, but the basic difference is that it indicates the source of services to be rendered. In other words, it refers to the company which provides those services.

Basic Definition of a Registered Trademark

A registered trademark looks like this: ®, and is seen alongside product names and other related materials. It basically signifies that a company has had their product federally registered.

Federal Laws and Registering Trademarks

While federal laws don’t mandate that a trademark has to be registered, uspto.gov’s FAQ section indicates that there are “several advantages, including notice to the public of the registrant’s claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services set forth in the registration.”

In order to register, visit the uspto.gov’s site to begin. One of the features of this site is the “Trademarks Process” sidebar that takes you through it step-by-step. The site also provides Intellectual Property Right Laws and other pertinent information. From what I gathered from looking at the application, there is a filing fee of $325 for what they refer to as the Trademark Electronic Application System, or TEAS, form for a “class of goods and/or services.” There is also a TEAS Plus form, which “has stricter filing requirements.” The cost to file this form is $275.

State and Local Laws

In order to determine if a particular state or city requires trademark registration, it’s important to contact the pertinent office or website. In California, for example, the Secretary of State is Deborah Bowen. Under the “Business Programs” section, there is a subsection titled “Trademarks and Servicemarks”, that provides additional information. There is a brief statement about the role of the Secretary of State’s office, which is that it “maintains registration and all updates of California state trademarks and service marks. This information is accessible to the public upon request. General provisions governing trademarks and service marks are found in the Model State Trademark Law, California Business and Professions Code sections 14200 et seq.”

In closing, it is definitely challenging to study the materials above in order to determine whether or not one needs to register fictional products and services. As in the case of epic films such as Star Wars, when products such as Battle Stars and droid dolls are created, it goes without saying that there are lawyers, agents, and other personnel who handle those aspects; the products are definitely registered in order to protect the rights of the creator.

But what of the writer that is just starting out and/or is beginning to gain some exposure? Given today’s marketplace, it’s vital to promote ones own work in addition to any promotional assistance from publishers–especially those who are associated with the small press. These issues definitely call for additional research, and this writer would definitely welcome additional tutelage until she can afford her own personal Intellectual Property Attorney!