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


tmflowersOver 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!

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. And to be sure, “their work is copyrighted to them as soon as they set it down in a fixed/tangible form” includes having it published online, right? Susan

  2. There’s an important distinction between referring to Knock Out roses in general (with or without the ®) and individual roses in the series.

    For example, PINK KNOCK OUT® (‘Radrazz’) is the correct way to refer to that plant and the name PINK KNOCK OUT® should be in upper case or in a different type face, usually a sans face (which I can’t replicate here). ‘Radrazz’ is the cultivar name, and PINK KNOCK OUT® is the selling name, or trade designation.

    Take a look at the similar OSO EASY® roses and you’ll see why this is important. The OSO EASY® roses have been developed by three different breeders and are sold under different names in different countries. For example, OSO EASY® PAPRIKA was known as MAYTIME in the UK long before it was introduced into North America as OSO EASY® PAPRIKA. These are both selling names/trade designations but what is constant, what should also be used alongside the selling name to avoid confusion, is the raiser’s original cultivar name which in this case is ‘ChewMayTime’ – so OSO EASY® PAPRIKA (‘ChewMayTime’) is actually correct (as used by Proven Winners and Spring Meadow Nursery). The selling name, without single quotes, should be in a different type face or in upper case, the cultivar name should have single quotes.

    Its also worth noting that registered trade marks, like KNOCK OUT (with or without the ®) cannot be used in cultivar names.

    Got that?! I know… It’s confusing. And it’s all the result of commercial pressure on common sense – and we can see which is winning…

    • Hi Graham,

      None of what you are citing applies to a journalist writing in a newspaper or magazine. Or a blogger for that matter. Simple caps, itals, and single quotes when appropriate are all that are legally required, at least as far as general style rules–until the professional media forsakes those. I am not a breeder, seller, grower, or PR firm. For the purposes of differentiating types in a book, maybe …

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Mine bloom straight through until frost with little care besides some fertilizer. I find them neither boring nor unattractive.

  6. 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.

  7. I so agree with Gary. I love my Knock Out roses.
    This site tends to “knock” anything but the exotic/ hard-to-find/ difficult to grow.

    • 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.

    • I may not like Knock Out, but when I do rave about plants, it’s usually stuff like ‘Golden Glow’ rudbeckias, doublefile viburnum, and pokeweed.

    • 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.

      Though the Rose de Rescht has done better than all of them. It must be all of those thorns. Is it an “old rose” or modern? No one knows:

  8. Just a note about using watermarks on photos… with Pinterest and other sharing sites, there have been a few times when people have found me or my blog because of the watermark I use, which includes the URL of my site. I try to make it as unobtrusive as possible (working to improve that all the time), yet still legible. I appreciate watermarks on other photos too, as they do help in trying to locate the owner of a random photo, whether it be on Pinterest, Facebook, or on a Google image search. Some food for thought. Of course, it’s also personal preference!

  9. Thanks for the discussion on the use of TM names and other conventions. As a blogger, I struggle to use proper form without unnecessary clutter. And unlike Kylee, I do not include any watermarks on my images. I find it detracts from a good photo, and takes the eye away from the subject matter I have (hopefully) successfully composed and captured. Of course that is my personal preference for sure.

  10. Re: trademark and copyright symbols- an easy rule of thumb is that they are required only when there is an offer for sale, such as in an advertisement or on a package, and garden writers using names editorially are not required to use them.
    Re: copyright – while it is true that copyright is established as soon as a garden writer creates a written piece or a photograph, if you do not register your work with the US Copyright Office and someone infringes your copyright you can only claim actual damages (no recovery of legal fees which can amount to $100,000.00 and more since complaints can only be settled in Federal court! ) The US Copyright Office is currently examining ways to make it easier for copyright owners to recover damages without legal fees, such as a small-claims court. Tell your Congressman to hurry them up.

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