Harlan Ellison registered his name as a trademark in 2001. I learned this yesterday and it made me wonder if that was a regular thing among science fiction writers. My search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website shows it is not.
Heinlein and Asimov, the two Americans in science fiction’s Big Three, were trademarked posthumously, Heinlein by the trustees of the Heinlein Prize in 2011, and Asimov by his estate in 2000. Asimov’s marks, registered for use in connection with science products, science toys, and educational materials and services have since been abandoned.
Beyond them, I found nothing. I tested several other writers’ names, picked for their marketing savvy (if this was a good idea, surely they’d have done it) or commercial success or historical significance. There is no record of a trademark application for the names of John Scalzi, George R. R. Martin, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Connie Willis, Orson Scott Card, John W. Campbell, Gardner Dozois, or even Philip K. Dick. So this is not something everybody does.
But during the past decade or so Ellison, through his Kilimanjaro Corporation, trademarked his name and several other properties (some now lapsed) — Working Without A Net (2000, cancelled), Edgeworks Abbey (2001, live), Edgeworks (2002, cancelled), and Dangerous Visions (2006, live).
Working Without a Net by Harlan Ellison first appeared as a book Ivanova was reading in an episode of Babylon 5. Ellison later gave the title to a weekly series of commentaries he did for Galaxy Online in 2000. Finally, in 2008, Ellison told a radio audience he has signed with a “major publisher” to write his memoirs, tentatively called Working Without a Net.
[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]
I wonder what the purpose of this is? Are writes who trademark their names afraid that someone will write a novel and put Harlan Ellison on the cover. I thought that was only legal if the other author’s name *also* happened to be Harlan Ellison. Of course, one could get one’s name changed by court order, and then legally publish a book by Harlan Ellison … and sell a handful of extra copies before the cheat was widely known. But, what if your name really *was* Harlan Ellison? Would Ellison’s trademarking his name prevent his unlucky namesake from putting his own name on his own novel? Would he have to invent a pseudonym for himself, to spare Harlan the existential suffering of knowing another Ellison has work on the bookshelf next to his? Or would it be enough to simply add a middle initial, i.e. “Harlan Q. Ellison?” Personally, I think Harlan should take up a hobby — he seems to have far too much time on his hands. Writing, perhaps?
I don’t know about authors trademarking their names but Clive Cussler trademarked his character Dirk Pitt (TM)
The late V.C. Andrews continues to produce books as a trademarked entity.
And McDonald’s has tried to sue people whose last name is actually McDonald who open restruants. This is either idiotic or useful.
Did some of this line of thinking come out of the Kilgore Trout problem? I hear tell that Vonnegut was none too pleased to find reviews claiming VENUS ON THE HALF SHELL was the best thing Vonnegut had written.
McDonalds has nothing on the US Olympic Committee …
“Three decades after it burst from the starting block, the Greek eatery Olympic Gyro has received a cease-and-desist email from the USOC, the nonprofit corporation responsible for training and funding U.S. teams. The June 7 notice demanded deletion of the word “Olympic” from the food shop’s title, claiming copyright of the word under a 1978 law.”
In recalling the intent to trademark “fandom” and some of the stuff Weird Al went through over his parodies, I have been told that there exists Corporation lawyers who need to produce lawsuits to keep their jobs. Rather–justify their jobs.