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You can’t trademark your book title, except when you can

Let’s start this post out with everyone’s favorite: a pop quiz.

Q: Without googling, can you name the publisher of Catcher in the Rye?

Don’t worry, unless you’re a superfan or savant, no one gets this right.

This is a hint at why most of the time you can’t trademark your book title.

As with many things legal, the answer comes down to a general rule and an exception. The general rule is that book titles (unless part of a series) cannot be registered as trademarks. The reasoning behind this is that trademarks are really meant to function as the identifiers of goods and services, and book titles don’t really fulfill that function. Back to our pop quiz as an example: “Catcher in the Rye” calls to mind teen angst and prep school shenanigans, it does not call to mind the publisher who made the book commercially available. (This is case in point why you don’t know who published it.)

And now, for the exception you’ve all been waiting for…

It is possible to register the title of your book in connection with goods and services you provide under that title, so long as those goods are not sales of your actual book.

Here’s what we mean—nobody really just writes a book anymore. People write a book and then create a brand, and sometimes even a movement, around it. That brand is then used on websites, blogs, tours, courses, and all kinds of merchandise. And, as we’ve mentioned before, trademarks protect brands. So, when your book title, by virtue of your use of it in connection with goods and services (that don’t include the actual selling of your book), becomes a brand name, it is totally possible to register it as a trademark.

In fact, we totally recommend that you register it as a trademark. At the point that your book title becomes a brand, it operates as the identifier of the source of all of the fabulous goods and services you offer under that brand—consulting, appearances, blogging, etc. Registering your trademark in that brand name will make sure that other people can’t also use it as a brand name (although they could also use it as a book title) and reap the rewards of all of your hard work.

So, make like J.D. Salinger and write yourself a masterpiece. Then make a like a modern entrepreneur, build a brand around that masterpiece and trademark that puppy with the quickness. You’ll be glad you did.

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