How can Bud Lawrence own the rights to the word "frindle", in Frindle?
Everyone knows that Nick made up the word frindle because he appeared on talk shows saying he did.
In Frindle, Nick decides to make up a new word for pen. He calls it a frindle. Nick is only a fifth grader, but his teacher ensures that the word gets media attention by not giving in and insisting on punishing anyone who uses the word. As a result, the word gets popular and kids being using it, and since they are punished for using it, the adults are soon hearing about it.
A local newspaper reporter writes about the story, and soon it goes to regional and then national media outlets. Soon, people want to buy things with the word frindle on them. Bud Lawrence’s lawyer advises him that the orders are “trouble.”
The whole country knows that that little kid made up the word, and unless you make a deal with his dad, you’re going to end up with nothing—maybe even a big fat lawsuit. That kid owns that word. (ch 12, p. 78)
As a result, Lawrence buys the rights to the word from Nick’s dad. Bud Lawrence gives Nick’s dad a contract for 30% of the profits, and a check for $2,250 for the amount he has sold already.
Believe it or not, anybody can trademark a word or phrase. When you trademark a word, you essentially make it your commercial property. It doesn't mean you're the only one who can use it; it means you're the only one who can profit from it. Brand names and slogans—like Kleenex or "Just do it"—are almost always trademarked.
Trademarked words and phrases are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Registering a word, like frindle, gives you an official record that says you were there first. That way, if anybody tries to swoop in on your word, your claim of ownership is protected in a court of law; you can file an infringement lawsuit to protect your property.
Generally speaking, though, simply registering your word or phrase in the first place is a good deterrent from would-be word poachers. In fact, one of the first things you have to do if you want to trademark a word is search the USPTO database to make sure it hasn't already been trademarked for a similar purpose.