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Trademarks are a type of intellectual property. As a writer, you should know how to use them in your writing without getting yourself into trouble.

Please note that this is not legal advice.

Using a trademark

Most names of commercial or widely-used companies, products and services are trademarked. If you want to talk about another organization's property, such as software, you should do two things:

  1. Use the trademarks properly
  2. Acknowledge the trademarks

The main issue with use, apart from spelling and capitalizing the words correctly, is that trademarks are adjectives. This makes no sense, but that's how it is. So you must, for example, write Microsoft's Word software, or Halliburton's HYDRO-GUARD mud system.

Strictly speaking, you should mark the first or most prominent occurrence of the word with a trademark symbol, using the TM or the R, depending on whether it is registered or not. In practice, most people seem not to do this.

Finally, most companies ask that you include some sort of description of the ownership of the trademark near its use. I always put them in the acknowledgments. I have seen people write something like “Trademarks are the property of their respective owners”. I don't know if this is good enough; I doubt it. I tend to write more or less what the owner asks for.

Example guidelines

Here's an example of some guidelines, for Mozilla's Firefox web browser, located on their website:

Proper Form
Mozilla's trademarks should be used in their exact form -- neither abbreviated nor combined with any other word or words (e.g., "Thunderbird" rather than "T-Bird" or "Thunderbinary");
Accompanying Symbol
The first or most prominent mention of a Mozilla trademark should be accompanied by a symbol indicating whether the mark is a registered trademark ("®") or an unregistered trademark ("™"). See our Trademark List for the correct symbol to use;
The following notice should appear somewhere nearby (at least on the same page or on the credits page) the first use of a Mozilla trademark: "[TRADEMARK] is a ["registered", if applicable] trademark of the Mozilla Foundation";
In at least the first reference, the trademark should be set apart from surrounding text, either by capitalizing it or by italicizing, bolding or underlining it. In addition, your website may not copy the look and feel of the Mozilla website, again, we do not want the visitor to your website to be confused about which company he/she is dealing with.