Finding out if something is trademarked can be tricky. Two places to look for trademarks are the International Trademark Association, an industry group, and the U.S. Patent Office’s Trademark Electronic Search System. But, strictly speaking, anyone can declare something to be a trademark if it’s not already been so declared, so those searches are not comprehensive. Among the clues are if there’s a logo of the name; or if the company puts “™” after the name, meaning it’s a trademark; or “®,” meaning it’s a registered trademark, giving it greater legal protection.

Journalists do not have to follow odd capitalization or punctuation marks when they use trademarks, and they do not have to put those superscript symbols after them. But as you would want your own copyrights to be honored, it’s a good idea to honor trademarks. On many levels, they’re the same thing.

*UPDATE 02/25/13: As Massey Padgham, a copy editor at the Vancouver Sun, points out, Dumpster is no longer a trademark, at least by itself. The trademark was allowed to expire in 2008. But, proving what happens if a trademark is so associated with the product that it becomes genericized, “Dumpster” lives on in other trademarks, such as My Doggy Dumptser, a pooper scooper; Dumpster Boss, a waste collection service; and Dumpster Diva, whose registration descrbes it as “Repurposing and salvaging of old or discarded items, namely, repairing, refinishing, reupholstering and/or refurbishing of furniture, home and garden decor.” Many people (including this columnist) will have to update their memories.


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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years.