Trademark Practices in Technical Information

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JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

In March 2009, the Center for Information-Development Management (CIDM) conducted a small survey of practices associated with the presentation of product trademark information in technical documentation. The study was initiated by a request from a CIDM member. Because the member was embarking on a transition from book-oriented product documentation to topic-oriented documentation, they questioned whether their existing practice was still viable.

The issue surrounding the use of product trademarks in topic-oriented documentation management is focused on the traditional use of the first occurrence. In print documents, many organizations have long held to the practice of placing the ™ or the ® symbol on the “first occurrence” of the product name in the text. With topic-based information development and the reuse of topics in multiple output forms, the “first occurrence” of a term is no longer a viable concept because the order of topics is unpredictable. In addition, with topic-based information development comes the further recognition that users do not read documents in print or online in the sequence in which they are presented in the table of contents, negating the intent of “first occurrence.”

In addition, the member faced problems with its even more conservative practice of placing the trademark or other symbols on every occurrence of a product name. That practice burdened the text with repetitive symbols that reduced readability, created a considerable extra work burden for the developers working in a markup language like XML, and potentially added to the cost of localization since the registration of a trademark is frequently different in various countries.

Survey design

The study presented the following questions to the senior managers of key companies that are members of the CIDM.

How are you handling trademarks in the documentation?

1) Make one statement in the frontmatter that lists all the trademarks and do not include the trademark symbol in the text of the document
2) Include the trademark symbol with every instance of the term throughout the documentation
3) Something else (please explain)

Companies responding

Twenty-five managers responded to the survey from the following companies:
Cadence Design Systems (2 divisions)
Thermo Fisher Scientific
Juniper Networks
Teradata
ADP (2 divisions)
Hewlett-Parkard (2 divisions)
Wind River
Symitar
Citrix Systems, Inc.
IBM Corporation
Radisys
Kofax Image Products
Synopsys
Jack Henry
Nokia Networks
The Raymond Company
John Deere
Avaya
Intel Corporation
Research In Motion
Sybase
SWIFT

Statements in frontmatter

All respondents indicated that they include a block of text somewhere in a document, typically in the frontmatter of print documents, that lists all referenced products and their appropriate trademarks. They also include various generic statements about the use of any additional product names in the text. Many attempt to place the correct form, either ™, ®, or others in the frontmatter and make a statement to the effect that the product “is registered in the United States and possibly other countries.”

However, John Deere reports that they have recently changed their policy:

“John Deere changed the way it references trademarks in November 2002 by dropping reference to the (R) registration symbol and listing all trademark names with a superscript (TM). Dropping the (R) mark is taken in response to global markets. Most of our registered trademarks are only registered in the U.S. By using the (R) registration, we are exposed in some countries to laws that make it illegal to mismark terms or products not registered in a specific country. With our larger marketing areas and dissemination of information, we have no controls as to where trademark references may occur. By use of (TM) superscript, we notify others of trademark ownership, but are not subject to the mismarking laws. From an ownership level, it is important to continue using the (TM) mark to signify ownership of terms. This still offers legal protection and puts anyone who might infringe on the trademark on notice the term is owned. Without the trademark indication, damages would not begin until we notified an infringer. Deletion of the (R) mark does not require a mass change to previously published information, but are expected to change our references as we develop new information.”

One company, SWIFT, which handles software for international funds transfers in the banking industry, includes only a generic statement about trademarks with no specific products names.

“All other product or company names that may be mentioned in this publication are tradenames, trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.”

Symbols in first occurrence

The traditional practice in technical communication has been to use the trademark symbol in the first occurrence of the term in the text, most often in addition to a blanket statement and/or a list in the frontmatter.

However, 10 of the 25 organizations responding no longer include trademark identifiers in the first occurrence of a term in the text. Following the advice of the legal and regulatory departments, they rely only on the statement in the frontmatter.

Symbols in online information

All organizations responding publish their content in online forms, either on the Internet as PDFs of print document or, more frequently today, in formats designed specifically for online presentation such as help systems and HTML pages. As a result of these changes in publishing practice, they report changes in the way they handle trademarks.

Eleven companies reported that, since there is not “first occurrence” in how topics are read on the Internet or in help systems, they no longer include the symbols in the text. Rather, they provide links to a separate page that lists all trademark information. The links are typically presented somewhere in the standard frame of every web page. In two instances, the link to the trademark information is placed in the “About …” page of the online system.

Symbols in topic-based, modular content

All recent reconsiderations of trademark policy have occurred in organizations that have moved content into a single-sourced, topic-based authoring environment. As a result, they argue that there is no way to identify a “first occurrence” because a topic may appear anywhere in a document and may be read in any order in an online system. As a result, they have reinvented their practice with support from their legal and regulatory organizations.

The information architect at Hewlett-Packard reported that they had recently revamped their style guide and presented the changes:

“Because we are working modularly, the concept of “first use” no longer applies. Therefore, we have modified our trademark guidelines accordingly. We do not use any trademark symbols within the text of a document. We do cite trademark acknowledgments in the front matter of the document, and we use the appropriate trademark symbols as part of the acknowledgments.”

Conclusions

A number of the managers responding are considering changes to their policies as they move further toward topic-based, modular information in online environments, as well as in traditional PDF outputs. They recognize that first occurrence is no longer a useful concept and are trying to work out a more sensible and less costly (in writer time and maintenance time) solution for the organization.

Recommendations

With the advent of topic-based authoring and the need to single-source content among multiple documents, the traditional management of product trademarks has become problematic. Traditionally, product names with trademarks were included in the first occurrence in a print document. Subsequently in the document, the product names were used without trademarks although some conservative organizations have included trademarks on every occurrence. This more conservative practice raises costs for implementation and maintenance and has largely been eliminated.

It has also been a standard practice to include general trademark information in frontmatter of a document or the equivalent for online delivery. As noted in the study, several organizations include links to web pages that detail copyright and trademark information.

The trend this study suggests is a move away from marking words in text with trademark information. Rather, the trend is to place trademark statements in frontmatter for print and linked pages online and to remove trademark symbols from words in text.

Because no one is able to ensure that a particular piece of text contains the “first occurrence” of a product name, it appears no longer a useful construct to place trademark symbols somewhere in the text, hoping that the customer will happen upon them.

Our recommendation is to restrict trademark information to frontmatter in print and linked pages in online delivery and to omit trademark symbols from the text of topics.

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