So, there seems to be an exciting new trend in publishing (not) where people are trademarking or attempting to trademark perfectly common words already in widespread usage throughout the industry in titles, series, imprints, etc. A friend on Twitter recently asked for my thoughts, and since I have yet to figure out how to do threads and link tweets (yes, I know, I’m waaayyy behind the times) and since Twitter only gives you so many words, I’m going to share thoughts here. First, according to the Trademark Office’s website, “A trademark is a brand name. A trademark or service mark includes any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services.” Choosing a word that’s already in widespread use already undermines the intent of a trademark to distinguish your work from other work of a similar nature. If your trademark is “water” for instance or “chocolate” or any number of words just as common as those being chosen, no one is going to automatically associate this with you. It’s unlikely to truly work for branding. Now, if you have something like the “Harry Harridan series,” you’ve got a name that’s distinct and worth protecting in case someone comes up with something that might legitimately cause confusion, like the Harriet Harridan series or the Harry Harrison series or…well, you get the point.
Now, in order to maintain a trademark, you have to show continued use and that you’ve taken steps to protect your trademark, which means taking action if such similarities exist to avoid confusion in the marketplace. This means monitoring the market and dealing with any potential violations of your trademark. For a common word, you may a) be at this all the livelong day and b) really affect the livelihood of others and invite accusations of restraint of trade.
In short, trying to trademark common words is not a good idea from any angle. It’s likely to be expensive, ineffective and detrimental to your own reputation and to others.