Patents, trademarks, servicemarks, and copyrights are often referred to as “intellectual property”, and as a reporter you have to be careful to respect the rights of the owner of the intellectual property.
Reporters don’t usually get involved in issues involving patents, but it’s useful to know what trademarks, servicemarks, and copyrights are.
A trademark is a symbol, name, word, or device used in business to indicate the source of goods, and to distinguish them from the goods of others. A servicemark is essentially the same as a trademark, except it’s used to identify the source of a service rather than a product.
Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of original works, including literary, artistic, dramatic, musical, and other intellectual works and ideas, both published and unpublished.
You may be surprised at some commonly-used terms which are actually trademarked products. Below is a list of a few of the many trademarked terms used incorrectly as generic terms, followed by the trademark owner.
Kleenex – Kimberly-Clark Corporation
Xerox – Xerox Corporation
Zamboni – Zamboni Corporation
AstroTurf – Monsanto Corporation
Band-Aid – Johnson and Johnson Corporation
Sharpie – Sanford Corporation
Frisbee – Wham-O Corporation
Crock Pot – Sunbeam Corporation
Jeep – Chrysler Corporation (some say the term “SUV” was invented because Jeep is trademarked!)
Realtor – National Association of Realtors (which reminds you not only that Realtor is a trademarked name, but that it’s pronounced REE-al-tor, not REE-la-tor)
There are many other examples. When in doubt, look it up!