Commercial terms

Brands and model names are protected by law. Unless using common names, write trade mark names and use symbols so people can understand legal status.

Use initial capitals for commercial terms

Use initial capitals for trade marks, brands and business names.


  • Collins Class submarine
  • Harley-Davidson
  • Instagram

An exception to using initial capitals is where the business itself uses an unusual mix of spacing, capitals and lower case letters. In this case, write it the way the business writes it.


  • iPhone
  • nbn
  • UNIX
  • X
  • YouTube

Don’t use an initial capital at the start of sentences when the trade mark or brand starts with a lower case letter.


eBay is a popular online auction site.

Use initial capitals for the proprietary names of drugs and other chemicals, but lower case for generic names.


Celestone V [Proprietary name] – hydrocortisone [Generic name]

Panadol [Proprietary name] – paracetamol [Generic name]

Spelling of ‘trade mark’

‘Trade mark’ is spelled as 2 words in the Trade Marks Act 1995. Use this spelling when writing for government, even though most dictionaries prefer ‘trademark’.


The trade mark Vegemite was first registered in 1923.

You should also spell ‘trade mark’ as 2 words when you use it as a verb, although it’s better to say ‘register a trade mark’.


Trade mark your brand if you don’t want other organisations or businesses to use it.

Register your brand as a trade mark if you don’t want others to use it.

Use a common word for a product if you can

Avoid using trade marks and brand names if possible. Instead use a generic word.

Write this

  • tissue
  • cooler

Not this

  • Kleenex
  • Esky

The ® and ™ symbols

Avoid using the registered (®) symbol or the trade mark (™) symbol for trade marks if possible.

The registered symbol shows a trade mark is registered. A business doesn’t have to use the symbol for protecting its intellectual property. It’s illegal to use it if the trade mark is not registered.

The trade mark symbol can be used with registered and unregistered trade marks. Businesses can use it when they intend to register the term or when registration is pending. The symbol doesn’t protect the intellectual property of the trade mark.

Find more guidance in the Australian Government intellectual property manual.

Take care using product names

The way a trade mark or brand is written is part of the intellectual property of its owner. Trade mark owners sometimes take legal action to prevent names being used in a generic sense.

If a term is still registered as a trade mark, you should use it only for that brand and use a capital letter. This may vary between different countries.

It’s more difficult when brands are becoming generic terms but are also still used as trade marks. ‘Thermos’ and ‘Hoover’ are examples.

Dictionaries show the way such words are used. Don’t rely on dictionaries to work out if such words have legal status as trade marks.

Find out if a trade mark has been registered in Australia by using Australian trade mark search. If you’re not sure, seek legal advice.

A product name can change meaning when used in the generic sense

A few words have different meanings when used as a trade mark or used generically.



  • Band-Aid [A sticking plaster; initial capitals only for that brand]
  • bandaid [A word meaning a temporary or makeshift solution to a problem]
  • Google [A popular search engine; initial capital only for that brand]
  • google [A verb meaning to search on the internet using a search engine]

Other brand names have become so widely used that they are no longer associated with a specific product. They have become common household names used in a generic sense. They start with lower case except at the start of a sentence.


  • aspirin
  • elevator
  • dry ice
  • linoleum
  • trampoline

Release notes

The digital edition covers much the same information as the sixth edition. It provides more direct advice about commercial terms; for example, using a common word instead of a commercial name where possible. It also includes examples of proprietary names of drugs and chemicals. 

The Content Guide did not have information about commercial terms.

About this page


Department of Communication and the Arts (2019) Australian Government intellectual property manual, Department of Communication and the Arts, Australian Government, accessed 10 June 2020.

IP Australia (n.d.) Trade marks, IP Australia website, accessed 10 June 2020.

Oxford University Press (2016) ‘5.15: Trade names’, New Oxford style manual, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) (2019) ‘Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods’, Regulation basics, TGA website, accessed 10 June 2020.

TGA (2019) ‘Ingredient basics’, Regulation basics, TGA website, accessed 10 June 2020.

This page was updated Thursday 21 September 2023.

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