You can trademark the word cocky! Surely this is ridiculous? Am I in trouble having used the word cocky without permission? Maybe I need to write cocky™ whenever (never up till now) I find the need to write this word?

Vox brings the story of what, almost inevitably, they chose to call Cockygate. Faleena Hopkins, romance author of several cocky books, has trademarked the word cocky in any romance novel series — which gets me off the hook here. Jamila Jasper, the author of a novel entitled The Cocky Cowboy, had to change her title to The Cockiest Cowboy to Have Ever Cocked. (I guess you’ve got to read the book to find out what exactly that might mean.) We are used to believing that there’s no copyright in titles, but a trademark is a horse of a different color. Trademark holders are being aided and abetted by Amazon, ever cautious with their content, who have begun to suspend books with this protected word in their title. A letter from Romance Writers of America has made them suspend their efforts until some legal clarity has been achieved.

When you come to think about it, it’s pretty obvious that trademarking a common word is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. I sit writing these words on an Apple computer — there’s a trademark covering the use of this word for a computer, which has no bearing on the activities of greengrocers, pie-makers, cider brewers, orchard workers and so on. The trademarking is meant to be there because it enables you to know where the goods come from: thus Apple computers come from Apple Inc.. That cocky romance novels come solely from Ms Hopkins is clearly not the case, as so many others are getting fouled up in this tangle. But getting a court to rule on that may be more than any cocky-wannabe author can afford, so Ms Hopkins just may be able to keeps tabs on the title.

I do think we ought to be able to expect the US Patent and Trademark Office to be a bit more careful when granting protection. A single adjective is surely an unlikely candidate for a unique identifier, especially an adjective which has apparently been quite widely used in romance. Now The Cockiest X, Y or Z to Have Ever Cocked: that might begin to be a bit more trademarkable.