I develop a software that contains a file viewer. For the sake of usability I would like to indicate also the "file type". Let's assume I display a Photoshop file. Am I allowed to refer to the file as "Adobe Photoshop File"?

Technically I use a trademark in my application which I don't own. I am just wondering what my options are here. Thank you!


Under United States law: Using a trademark solely to refer to files compatible with a trademarked program would be allowed under the doctrine of nominative fair use.

The Ninth Circuit sets out the three-part test for nominative fair use in New Kids on the Block v. New America Pub, 971 F.2d 302 (9th Cir. 1992):

  1. "[T]he product or service in question must be one not readily identifiable without use of the trademark"
  2. "[O]nly so much of the mark or marks may be used as is reasonably necessary to identify the product or service"
  3. "[T]he user must do nothing that would, in conjunction with the mark, suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark holder."

Simply referring to the name of a trademarked program to describe its file format (and not doing so in a way that suggests "sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark holder," such as slapping a "Certified Adobe Photoshop Compatible" sticker on the box or something like that) would meet these requirements.

The International Trademark Association elaborates a bit on the doctrine and gives some examples here.

  • 1
    It might even be necessary to name the Trademark program. look at file names vs a extension: .doc is the end associated with some 10 different programs, distinguished by which version of Microsoft Word / WinWord did encode it. Without mentioning what encoding variant is used, often the files might be incompatible with the wanted version. – Trish Aug 22 '20 at 8:17

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