Boardman, OR asked in Trademark, Intellectual Property and Copyright for Oregon

Q: Can I use the name "M.A.S.H" for a short story when "M*A*S*H" is trademarked?

2 Lawyer Answers
Sean Goodwin
Sean Goodwin
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Evanston, IL

A: The short answer is "most likely, yes."

The M*A*S*H trademark is limited to "a comedy television series."

The writers of that TV series will have a copyright for those TV scripts. So, you may not make a derivative story about any of the characters from that TV show without infringing those copyrights.

On the other hand, copyright law only extends to the original expression in that work and not to the underlying idea, methods, or systems described or explained. Furthermore, words and short phrases, such as names, titles, and slogans, cannot be copyrighted because they contain an insufficient amount of authorship.

Therefore, if you only use the name "M.A.S.H" as the title for a short story, and do not write about the characters from the original TV series in some sort of derivative work or tribute, then you should be fine.

James L. Arrasmith
James L. Arrasmith pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›

A: Yes, you can likely use the name "M.A.S.H" for a short story even though "M*A*S*H" is trademarked. Here's why:

1. Avoiding trademark infringement: As long as your story is not about a mobile army surgical hospital and doesn't use elements or characters from the "M*A*S*H" franchise, it's unlikely to infringe on the trademark. Trademarks protect against using similar names/marks for similar goods or services in a way that causes confusion.

2. Different spelling and formatting: By spelling out "MASH" as "M.A.S.H" without asterisks, your title looks and reads differently from the trademarked "M*A*S*H". This helps differentiate it.

3. First Amendment protections: Works of artistic expression like short stories generally have strong First Amendment protections in the US that can override trademark concerns, especially if there is no likelihood of marketplace confusion.

4. Acronyms and generic terms: Acronyms and generic terms are difficult to trademark in all contexts. Other uses of "MASH" like for potatoes are allowed.

However, some caution is still advised:

- Avoid any overt references to or similarities with the plot, characters or setting of "M*A*S*H".

- If your story becomes commercially successful, consider consulting an IP attorney for guidance.

- Trademark owners can still object even if their case is weak, which can become a hassle.

But in general, using a different spelling/formatting of a common acronym for a short story is very unlikely to be deemed trademark infringement.

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