I read a story recently that made me cringe.
I wonder what your thoughts might be if you read it too. The story is about a writer that tried to trademark the word ‘cocky.’
Cocky: “conceited or arrogant, especially in a bold or impudent way,” says the Oxford Dictionary definition.
This blog is not to bash at this particular author who tried to obtain a trademark on the word “cocky”, because, goodness knows, she received quite enough attention from prestigious groups like the Author’s Guild, The Guardian, The NY Daily News and The National Post. However, I do not blame these groups for noticing that someone tried to register a trademark on a word that was so commonly used in books in the romance novel industry.
For those who are familiar with the romantic novel industry, many romance writers tend to use the word ‘cocky’ to describe characters or demeanor, or something in their book to lend it some air of steaminess. That is, after all, the nature of a romance novel: The Heat and The Steam is a necessity in the book’s scenes.
Therefore – If one single writer is able to trademark a word that is so commonly used in the romance writing industry, like the word ‘cocky’, and no one else can use that word in their book-writing careers for as long as that trademark exists, what, pray tell, would happen to the world of steamy romance writing as we know it? The word “cocky” would become exclusive to one writer only!
To give you a better idea of what I am talking about, let us revisit the reason why anyone would want to obtain a trademark. Trademark means: a symbol, word, or words legally registered or established by use as representing a company or product. (Oxford Dictionary: Again, I say, thank you for always coming to my rescue).
When a person or business is able to successfully register a trademark, it means that it becomes a symbol, word or words that represents that person or business, and nobody else can use it.
Therefore, if I am a romance writer, and I register a trademark on the word ‘cocky’, it means I can sue any other romance writer – or any other writer in similar writing ‘industry’ – that uses the word in their content.
Indeed, it’s a cool thing to have a trademark for your business: It will give you a monopoly on the use of a word or phrase which can, in turn, grant you a competitive edge over others in your industry – But in this particular case where someone made a move on the word “cocky” and it became a trademark candidate, as a lawyer in matters of trademark, I would unequivocally say: It is not a good move.
Why?: The word is too common. True, the author who tried this out was trying to create a brand for herself, to stand out as unique, as readers would be able to recognize any book out there in commercial space with the word ‘cocky’ as belonging to her alone. It was a brave attempt, it was a good business strategy – But it failed because a good trademark strategy was not applied for this trademark registration.
It is an excellent idea to register trademarks for your business – However, there are tactical, planned ways to achieve it so as to be successful.
How do you register a trademark for your writing business so that you can create a brand that readers – and the rest of the industry – would recognize as belonging to you? You need to have a trademark branding strategy that uses either unique words or common words that have developed secondary meaning.
Below, I will describe how you can choose a brand or trademark strategy that will help your writing stand out in 4 easy steps.
There are 4 ways through which you can use words or symbols to create a trademark that will help your business to stand out as unique: You can create a trademark for words or phrases by making those words or phrases arbitrary, fanciful, suggestive or descriptive.
Arbitrary branding: This is when you use a name or symbol that has no logical relationship to the product you are calling by that name. For instance, a brand of cigarettes is called “Camel” cigarettes. There is no logical relationship between camels and cigarettes. Therefore, if you trademark the name ‘camel’ for your cigarette business (as someone has already done), there is very likely no other business that will think of naming their cigarette business after camels because it is such an arbitrary, unrelated word to the business. If you are a writer and you need a trademark that is arbitrary so that your readers will know you by that arbitrary name, and so that other writers would likely not even consider using such a name for themselves because it is so ‘out there’, you now know what to do. If you need help coming up with outrageously arbitrary romance novel names…I know a few. Write to me below.
Fanciful branding: Another way to find a trademark that will brand your writing business uniquely is by choosing a fanciful word or symbol for your business or product….Or book. Fanciful words or symbols do not mean anything. In other words…When you use them, they have no meaning to most or all ears that hear them or see them. Yet – Anyone who heard the word or phrase will be able to relate it to your writing business because you chose it is fancifully yours alone. A good example of a fanciful product name is: Clorox. To this day, I have no idea where the word “Clorox” came from. Yet, someone used that word to name their bleach laundry product. No one else in the blech industry uses that name at this time because it was so uniquely, fancifully chosen. Therefore, maybe you want to name your romance business or book series something fanciful like: The Blorox Books of Romance? Okay. I am kidding. That is a terrible example. However – You get the picture. Therefore, get out there and be fanciful.
Suggestive branding: You can choose suggestive words or symbols to make your writing business stand out, and to keep it branded from other businesses. A suggestive trademark is a word or symbol that suggests what your product is about, or in this case, what your story or book is about. I will use the example of a random product: A product called “Sun bum” will probably suggest to you that it has something to do with the sun. Maybe something related to tanning. Therefore, the name of the product suggests what the underlying product is all about. For your book or writing business, what would you like to suggest to your reading audience or other writing colleagues out there with your trademarked name? Something that you want them to know about you, spmething that you stand for in your writing, perhaps? Maybe you want to be known as “The Author that Gets A Girl Betroth” because your books are so full of wisdom about how a girl can get a groom? Okay, my examples today are slightly atrocious. However, does this brand name or trademark “The Authot that Gets A Girl Betroth” not suggest to your reading fans that you are a writer related to something about romance, marriage, ‘betrothin’’?
Alright – Go crazy, think of something suggestive for your writing!
Descriptive branding: Finally – You can use descriptive words to brand your writing trade. I will start by cautioning you about using this descriptive mark option, though. Descriptive words ‘describe’ what your business is about, exactly as the definition implies. For instance, the author that tried to brand the word ‘cocky’ was using a descriptive word (adjective) in the romance writing business. She did not have ‘secondary meaning’ developed for her business with the use of that word. Let me explain.
In order to succeed with a descriptive trademark, the word you are trying to trademark must have developed ‘secondary’ meaning in the eyes of the public. This means that everyone in your community, and in the writing world, in fact, knows you by those words so that if you trademarked them, there would be no dispute that it already belonged to your brand. Let’s consider an example: Harry Potter. If I looked through the world phone directory (if there was such a thing), I highly suspect that there are several individuals out there with the name “Harry Potter” or a variation of the name like “Henry Porter” or “Harry Portier” or…some real-life Harry Potters may exist. If J.K. Rawling had tried to trademark the name of Harry Potter before the public knew her as the “Hary Potter Writer”, she would likely not have succeeded, especially since the community or consumers did not know her as the creator of a character called “Harry Potter.” However, J.K Rawlings is known worldwide today for writing the Harry Potter series. The name “Harry Potter” now has ‘secondary meaning’ for her business i.e. everyone knows her in association with those words or the name “Harry Potter.” Therefore, if J.K. Rawlings registered a trademark to set her business apart from others e.g. “The Harry Potter Writer”, it would not be disputed. Everyone now associates her with Harry Potter. It is a generic enough name, it describes a person, obviously called Harry Potter, but it now has secondary meaning. Therefore, to use a descriptive trademark, you need to ‘wait’ for the world to recognize you by that word or symbol first. This is risky as someone else could beat you to registering the trademark while you are waiting.
What are you supposed to be doing during the waiting period? Marketing like hell, of course, so that the community now comes to know you with that brand.
For this reason, a descriptive mark is probably not the best way to go when you are trying to brand your writing business.
I hope you have a good idea of what to do to make your writing business stand out in the sea of so many other writings. Have you considered a brand for your writing business but not sure if it will work? Or have you successfully launched a brand and you are crushing it? Either way – Brilliant move. If you would like to share your success story or journey, comment below!
You can also reach out to me privately on my contact page and tell me what you think of these bending strategies, or if you need any help with your own branding plan.