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I'm writing a sci-fi book series. As a true nerd, I want to use some characters to "do homage" to famous scientists, acronyms for experimental methods, and (here's the question) trademarked instruments. All would be disguised somewhat; i.e., they are insider jokes ("easter eggs"). Either I would change the spelling, or use an anagram. So my question is: I'm on solid legal ground, here, right?

Example1 (not in my books, though): Pepsi Cola => Spice Lopa, the village sweetheart

Example2 (also not in my books): Microsoft => Mike Rosoff, the scheming alderman

I know none of you are lawyers, but I'm hoping someone might know anyway.

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+1 because I love puns –  evilsoup Dec 19 '13 at 14:47
3  
I'm not sure what to think about the "scheming alderman" –  Bruce Alderman Dec 19 '13 at 21:41
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@BruceAlderman C'mon, Brucie, you've never even planned a birthday party for someone? ;) –  Lauren Ipsum Dec 20 '13 at 18:49

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The specific issues you are dancing around are "Trade mark dilution" and "Libel and slander". Trade mark worries can be mitigated by:

  1. not using the exact mark, and
  2. not using it in the same industry.

Pepsi and Microsoft do not write novels. Using anagrams of the mark is not the same mark. For example, Pepsi-cola and Coca-cola are different trademarks. For libel and slander concerns as long as your work can be considered a parody, satire, or allegory, they would have a very weak case. Also, as lawyers tend to be literalists, they won't notice if you don't get too blatant.

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Don't forget this precedent: the HAL 9000 computer in Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey was formed by transposing the letters of IBM down one letter in the alphabet:

H <- I  
A <- B  
L <- M
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I have never encountered such a rule or law that prohibits the use of names derived from reality that you already altered. I can't give you any basis, but I am sure that it is allowed and that you are not violating any laws. I may edit my answer if I happen to see my basis.

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