The USPTO has retracted its approval to publish and issued a rejection based on failure to function as a trademark. This is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to a trademark registration application. It means the mark can’t be registered even on the Supplemental Register or become a potentially registerable mark if it acquires secondary meaning/acquired distinctiveness. The only way to get around this type of rejection is to argue that the finding of failure to function is wrong, and that is not easy to do. Unless the applicant is spoiling for a long, difficult, and expensive fight, the registration application is probably dead.
Back in June, MSE Media, LLC, the management company (I assume) for the rights of bestselling author Michael Scott Earle, filed a trademark registration application for the word mark DRAGON SLAYER. You can see the filing information here:
At the time, there was some controversy, as the author community (especially the Internet/Indie author community) was on High Alert for trademark shenanigans following the “COCKY” word mark lawsuit. However, due to the way trademark registration works, there were a limited number of things that third parties could do at that point. I’ll explain briefly, and then discuss the particulars of the DRAGON SLAYER filing.
Trademarks, as trademark expert Ed Timberlake (of @timberlakelaw and Timberlake Law) is fond of pointing out, are not actually “granted” or “awarded” or “given” by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or its equivalent agencies in other countries. Trademarks are, essentially, earned. And the way you earn them is by forming an association in the minds of consumers between your product or service, and the trademark. (We usually refer to them collectively as trademarks, although linguistically it’s more correct to call the ones associated with a service “service marks.”) Once that happens, the law in most countries automatically starts to protect consumers by proscribing use of the mark by other people in ways that could create a likelihood of confusion in the marketplace.
So, first, to get it over with: I wrote a book. It’s called My Mother Had Me Tested! and it’s a collection of funny mad science/geek-related short stories. Please have a look. If you think you might enjoy it, please read the free sample. If you still think you might enjoy it, please buy it. Here’s the link: http://amzn.com/B00WFV3YZU
Now that the plug is done – and I would never suggest that you should buy my book to make the rest of this post easier to follow, no way, not for a minute – I’m going to go over some of the potential legal issues involved with the publication of my book, My Mother Had Me Tested!. (Okay, I’ll stop now. From here on out it’s just MMHMT, and no more links. Promise. 🙂 )
Also, please keep in mind that nothing in this post is intended to be legal advice. I am reviewing my own work and pointing out generally interesting issues regarding it. My goal is not to provide specific answers to legal questions, but show examples of how one might approach these issues, and help you to be more aware of the potential for liability which your own creative endeavors might create. Always consult an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction and familiar with the relevant law *ahem* before making legal decisions.
On with the review!
ISSUE ONE: COVER ELEMENTS
This one’s easy. I licensed the cover illustration from an online stock photo company called CanStockPhoto. They have a required copyright disclaimer: I included it. The font I used I found online and, after review, I decided that my usage of it for this purpose was acceptable. (Digital font files, by the way, can be copyrighted. Generally speaking, type itself cannot.) There’s no visible person, actual or not, so I don’t have to worry about a likeness release. (More about use of likeness below.) If there were, I’d need one or need to make sure the person I licensed the photo from had one. Stock Photo sites usually make this clear – if it’s marked “editorial,” you probably shouldn’t use it for commercial purposes. If it’s not, it’s probably released, but you should still check. If you commission a cover photo or illustration, make sure your artist provides a likeness release as well as a copyright license if necessary.
Finally, I made the cover myself, so I didn’t have to worry about the copyright on the assembled elements. If I’d had an artist do it for me, I’d have needed a copyright license, but I didn’t, so I didn’t. Next question!