Let's say I want to sell t-shirts, and I want to include the title of famous scientific papers. I am also considering adding some other visuals to the shirt; in some cases let's say I would consider modifying the title a bit, for example changing some letter to achieve some pun or reference to something else. (Like those shirts with "FBI: Federal B**bs Inspector" people sell at the beach)

One example is "The harmony of the world" or "Harmonices Mundi" (from the paper Harmonices Mundi by Johannes Kepler in 1619).

Another example is "Going deeper with Convolutions", published in 2015.

What about names that have identifiable words? Like "Fast R-CNN" or "BERT"?

How can I go about even answering this question? Is it about asking the original authors, the publishing journal or someone else? What if the original authors are dead or unreachable? And how is this different from people selling online courses with these names in the course titles like this one? Or if the title also appears in an open-source repository with commercial permission?

I am not looking for answers to every single question, but rather a general understanding and initial guidance on how to approach this.

  • 2
    The paper BERT mentions that trademark cannot be used see repo license. So, is the name BERT considered a trademark, or is that clause referring to something else like "Google"?
    – EmmanuelB
    Apr 15 at 14:29
  • It's safe to assume anything much before the 20th century is not going to be covered by any IP protection. The main areas to consider are copyright and trademark law. It's possible to mention a trademark without permission in some circumstances. Question about node.js, Facebook
    – Stuart F
    Apr 15 at 14:43
  • There are questions about the copyright status of titles, slogans, personal names, etc
    – Stuart F
    Apr 15 at 14:44
  • @StuartF: For copyright, yes, anything created more than about 100 years ago is likely no longer protected (depending on jurisdiction). But for trademarks, even though trademark registration only dates to the late 1800s or so in most places, it's possible for a much older trademark to have been registered after those laws came into effect, and renewed ever since. The logo of Stella Artois beer reportedly dates to the 1300s and is certainly still protected now. Apr 15 at 16:05
  • Book and song titles typically don't enjoy IP protection, you can find many examples of popular songs with the same title. Also, some of your uses seem to be parody, which usually avoids IP infringement.
    – Barmar
    Apr 15 at 16:19


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