Differences Between U.S. and U.K. Drafting Usages

In this post on IP Draughts, Mark Anderson notes two ways in which U.K. drafting usages differ from their U.S. counterparts:

  • In the U.K. one says trade mark, using two words, rather than trademark, which is the U.S. usage.
  • In the U.K., license is used as a verb, licence as a noun; in the U.S., license serves both functions.

What are some other differences? I welcome your comments. And how about any Canadian or Australian differences?

By the way, I think the licenselicence distinction is pointless and ultimately doomed. It reminds me of the ostensible distinction between guarantee and guaranty; see this October 2006 post on AdamDrafting.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

8 thoughts on “Differences Between U.S. and U.K. Drafting Usages”

  1. In Canada, we (unsurprisingly?) take the middle… our legislation is called the “Trade-marks Act”. Hence the word is hypenated in Canada – “trade-marks”.

  2. Ken:

    The difference between license and licence or between guranty and guarantee seem like something that one could use as a subtle signal to make reading easier. But I would never elevante either of them to a drafting prescription. It is more along the lines of things like consistently saying either “the Customer” or just plain “Customer.”


    • Chris: Given that there’s no confusing a verb and a noun, I think the differences are a nuisance. By contrast, using the definite article with a party-name defined term results in prose that’s marginally less stilted, although I wouldn’t make a big deal over it. Ken

  3. In England and Wales, we have a Trade Marks Act 1994, yet my concise Oxford dictionary tells me that the word is trademark.

    From a language point of view, and therefore as a matter of drafting, in UK English we would advise a client to seek advice, we would suggest a young lawyer practises before joining a practice. If he wants to be licensed, he should apply for a licence, and if the client has recently devised a device, we suggest a patent.

    Now, strangely, “guarantee” and “warrantee”, as variants on “guaranty” and “warranty”, are both derived from the Anglo-Norman i.e. French (“garantie”, “warantie”), yet in UK English “guaranty” is never seen, but “warranty” is standard. That’s language, I guess. 

    • Alan, my thoughts exactly (or would have been if I had spent time working them up).  These are general differences of idiom and language use, not drafting differences.  Some say math, I say maths, or (closer to IP contracts) some say copyrights, I say copyright (in several works).  I think we should be reticent about saying some of these solutions are right or wrong – they are just differences, based on what we have learnt.

  4. While there tends to be spillover of American usage, in principle, we in Canada, like the Brits, use “license” as a verb and “licence” as a noun. Also, we will use double consonants in words like “cancelled” (and follow UK usage for a verb like “fulfil”).

  5. Present usage of words is largely governed by past usage, and what people are used to, and change usually comes organically rather than through analysis. If English people think using “license” as a noun looks strange, and if Americans think using “licence” at all looks strange, I doubt either will be convinced that one is better than the other. Logic isn’t that relevant to spelling, as we all know.

    I do prefer “trademark” over “trade mark” though, and the former is often used in the UK as well. We pronounce it as one word over here, so I feel spelling it as one word too actually comes more naturally.

  6. As someone who looks at docs from both sides of the Atlantic, the differences are mostly commonplace and just a minor annoyance. Brits are well used to seeing US terminology. There are some phrases which are more challenging: ‘gross negligence’, ‘work made for hire’ come to mind.

    I guess US lawyers don’t see British spelling quite so often.


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