As an author, you dedicate countless hours to researching, writing, and editing a work before it is ever published. One of the most common questions asked by authors is, “Can I trademark the title of my book? The short answer is generally no. However, some workarounds can help to protect the author’s intellectual property with respect to trademarks.
Titles of a Single Work
Under the law, the title of a single, creative work is generally unregistrable as a trademark. A single work can be described as a work where the content does not change—whether it’s a book, movie, or song. This refusal applies to both the Principal and Supplemental Registers. While this might seem odd, there is a valid reason for such refusals.
Unlike copyright law which has a limited enforceable period, the length of trademark registration is potentially endless. In fact, as long as the trademark is continuously used in commerce, a trademark can remain enforceable. However, if authors were afforded trademark protection on a single title, they could potentially circumvent copyright law’s time limits. Specifically, once a book falls into the “public domain,” others need to be able to call the work by its title. If that work were to be protected under trademark law, they would be prevented from doing so.
What About a Book Series?
The law recognizes that a series of books can function as an identifier of source and may be afforded trademark protection. A great example of this would be the HARRY POTTER series. As a series, HARRY POTTER is registered as a trademark for books. HARRY POTTER serves as a source identifier for J. K. Rowling’s books.
What if You Don’t Have a Series?
However, in most cases, authors may not have a series of books to rely on to establish trademark rights. In such cases, authors may have additional goods and services that help develop some level of protection. Specifically, authors may have other products such as bookmarks, note pads, or even pens branded with their book’s title. In this case, the author may receive trademark protection on the “title” per se as long as it functions as a trademark concerning the applied-for goods. In-other-words, if the title of the book functions as a source identifier for bookmarks, note pads, or pens, the author may be afforded some level of trademark protection.
Overall, the title to single books is generally not registerable as a trademark. In particular, the title of a book functions only to identify the single book rather than to serve as an indicator of the source. However, authors need to recognize that other forms of trademark protection may be afforded for their related products.
A single work “include[s] works in which the content does not change, whether the work is in printed, recorded, or electronic form.” See TMEP 1202.08(a)