Working Title

Can the title of a movie be a trademark? What about a book or play title?

“The title of a single creative work is not registrable”,* says the Trademark Office.

Copyright is what protects the content of things like books, movies and plays. If you don’t want someone printing off copies of your book or selling bootleg copies of your movie, you’ll be using copyright, not trademark rights, as the basis of your claim.

So does that mean you can start selling Harry Potter® T-shirts?

See that little ®? You know that means you can’t do it. Because like everything in the law, it’s more complicated than it seems.

First, you can have trademark rights for the name of a series of books (or a series of movies or a TV series).  HERE’S LUCY® was registered in 1969. SESAME STREET® was registered in 1973. STAR WARS® was registered in 1979.

Second, you can certainly have trademark rights for all the promotional items that are sold in connection with your book, movie, play, or TV show. There are US trademark registrations for marks containing HARRY POTTER® in fourteen different classes for everything from balloons to dried fruit. So, don’t even think about selling that Breaking Bad chemistry set.

If you’re an author or a film maker, you’ll mostly rely on copyright to protect your work, but you should also consider registering a trademark if you plan to have a series or do merchandising.


*Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure, Section 1202.08.





What’s in a Font

Should a trademark registration be in a particular font? Usually, you should register a trademark in no particular font because it provides broader rights and will live on even if you change the font later, but some fonts are so tightly tied to a trademark that a registration in a particular font makes sense.

The question you should ask yourself is this: If a competitor chooses a different word in your same font, could your customers be confused?

What do I mean by that?

CocaCola® regularly goes after and shuts down people who try to sell these shirts because just the font is enough to make people think about CocaCola.


Here’s another example: What if I were to open a housewares store with this as my trademark?


Helvetica is so closely tied to Crate&Barrel, that it looks like this brand was created just to confuse people.

Axio®, the company who came up with my word mark and logo, actually created their own font.* Here’s their lovely trademark:


They would rightly be upset if someone else started using this for a different design firm:


So, if the font you use is that strong and that important to your branding you might want to consider registering the trademark in a particular font.


*Axio created an entire alphabet for the font used in their trademark. The font itself can be protected by registering the copyright. That won’t protect the brand, but it will protect them from having other people use the font without a license.