Ministry Of Controversy

Oh, TM/® symbols? Don’t use ’em; don’t have to

Eric Groft12 comments711 views
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Over the weekend, Susan and I heard from a garden writer who worried that he was about to be attacked by the Conard-Pyle company for not naming the Knock Out rose line the way it prefers (all caps with a ®). Instead, the writer was using the single quotes most of us employ when speaking of specific hybrids. Knock Out, however, is not just a specific hybrid; it is a group of hybrids developed by William Radler and a registered trademark (owned by Star Roses/C-P). That’s why you’ll see the trademark symbol used on the many websites that sell these roses. Personally I have very little occasion to name these roses, because I don’t grow any—I find them boring and unattractive. But that’s another topic. It’s also a very popular brand, and has been illegally propagated—that’s another topic, too.

Our writer friend received a couple letters from C-P about his “misuse” of the name, but—as we just heard—the company subsequently apologized, saying the letters were written in error. Here’s the thing, though. Writers are not legally required to use trademark symbols, registered or unregistered. Such symbols and other formalities may be required in corporate documentation, but the usage is not legally binding. I follow the Chicago Manual on these matters and routinely remove such additions when my writers mistakenly use them. Capitalization is all that is required.

Browsing the interwebs, I found a couple usages of Knock Out in national publications, including this, which uses the single quotes, and this, which is what I would do. As for all caps, that’s just obnoxious. (One of the reasons I prefer Chicago is its restrained attitude toward capitalization.)

It bothers me when plant companies lean on writers about how the way their plant names are used. We are not their employees, or their PR firms. Gentle corrections are one thing, when there is truly a mistake; imposing unenforceable requirements is another. I’m glad that does not seem to have happened in this case.

While we’re on this, many writers and photographers need to realize that their work is copyrighted to them as soon as they set it down in a fixed/tangible form. Registration and notice is not required, especially not in a byline or slapped all over a picture. Clearly, I  have a pet peeve about unnecessary symbol litter!

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on November 3, 2014 at 8:05 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.


  1. What’s worse, in my opinion, is that the cultivar name isn’t even Knock Out, it’s ‘Radrazz.’ So single quoting the K-word name is just wrong but a completely understandable mistake given the confusion these brand names create. I believe Tony Avent wrote about the whole brand name issue quite a while back.

  2. Because of this nonsense, I won’t purchase Knock Out roses.–I think it’s silly and confusing. I’ll stick to antique roses, back alley plant swaps and home gardener to home gardener trades.

  3. We may not be required to use the symbols but if we do, we need to use them right. Single quotes were absolutely erroneous in this case as they denote a cultivar name, which a registered trademark name (e.g., Knockout) is not.

  4. You mean that after I went to the trouble of finding out what all those symbols mean, reading Tony Avent’s rant and getting fired up, and finally falling into line and following the standard protocol–now you’re telling me I don’t have to toe the corporate line? Just think of all the keystrokes I’ll save! Thanks for the heads up.

  5. Actually Gardenrant has many mentions of knockouts and they’re almost all positive. I’ve recommended them often myself. I’m also partial to cheap or free plants that have been around forever. Garden coaches have to know what’s possible for clients and what survives.

  6. Star Roses has bred other good performing roses that are not low level landscaping plants. I found that their Collette and Polka climbers did better in our maritime climate than the what was popular when I bought them in the 1990s, the David Austin roses (the Perdita died, along with almost all of the hybrid teas like Fragrant Cloud and Chrysler Imperial). So I wouldn’t judge them just on the landscaping roses.

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