I'm currently writing a sci-fi/fantasy novel that mostly takes place on a star/space-ship but I'm stuck on if i'm available to use names of the propulsion drives, such as Warp or even Impulse drives.

I am however quite inspired by star trek, but I don't want to copy from their work but There's a lot of grey area on what a person in Sci-fi in general can work with and what they can't and propulsion seems to be in a particular grey area that I don't know what to do about.

I've read one or two things that says it is copy-righted then another saying it isn't. It's rather confusing.

  • 1
    Warp drives are actual science (Alcubierre drives), impulse drives are not. Take that as you will. If you want to look into real rocket engines, or at least realistic rocket engines, you might want to check this website out: projectrho.com/public_html/rocket
    – nick012000
    Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 11:20

4 Answers 4


As mentioned, the nature of what a Warp Drive does is a scientific possibility and considered a possible near future tech with NASA working on a similar in principle Warp Drive (in Star Trek, the Warp Drive creates a spacial distortion that makes space contract as the ship's bow moves towards it and expand as it moves astern. Thus, you do not violate FTL because you are really making the distance shorter, rather than going faster.). Impulse Drive may have a similar emerging tech inspiration behind it, but I'm not as familiar with it and Star Trek's use of it as a speed is a hard limit demarcation and avoids a hard science number so the ship moves at plot speed (i.e. Impulse is the fastest a ship can go without using warp, while the captain may use a fraction of impulse for a slower speed ("One Quarter Impulse" is a maneuverable in narrow passage speed, while Impulse seems to be able to cover the space of a solar system with reasonable time). It's likely that the "impulse drive" is an engine that can be adjusted for speed, and correlates to "Full Steam Ahead" in naval parlance. "Full Steam" is not a speed, but rather "the fastest the engines can move us" (in the U.S. Navy, the joke speed of "Full Bendix" to mean faster then "Full Steam." The lever on the bridge that functions (That round one that has a bar that surrounds the desired setting) as the method to adjust speed is made by a company called "Bendix", which does or did at one point stamp the company logo above the max setting. The joke being that the max speed is so desired that the helmsman adjusting the control broke past the "Full" setting and the highlighter is over Bendix logo... In some cases, the vehicle can actually go faster, if regulators are disabled. The regulators are there to prevent wear and tear, but if the choice is moving this ship at a speed that will break the engines faster or the ship is destroyed, it can be better to save the ship and put into safe port with an engine that needs to be replaced sooner than expected).

Warp is used by other franchises and is described as functioning similar to Star Trek. The video game Stellaris used to have Warp as one of three possible FTL systems for ships (the other two were a series of Hyper-Lanes - extradimensional tunnels that connected each star to fixed stars, sort of like deep space 9's wormhole with a dash of Contacts ancient network or connections, implied to be built by something, but everyone who uses it only knows how to get to them and not how to make more routes... or who made them now - and Worm Hole generators - a "gate" station outside the ship could create an artificial wormhole to any star system in range... if the gate goes, the ships might be stranded if there is no other gate in range. A fourth system called "Jump Drives" could be researched later in the game, and basically acted as a teleportation system. Recent updates changed FTL so everyone starts with Warp Drive but alternatives exist and can be researched).

The Stellaris FTL systems generally lined up with commonly used FTL drives that exist in scifi as it homaged a lot of the space opera genre tropes. Warp was Star Trek, Hyper-Lane was best aligned with Star Wars and Contact, Worm Hole Functioned the gates like Babylon Five, (though you didn't need an end gate), and Jump Drive functioned like Battlestar Galactica's FTL, with some in lore draw backs related to "Warp" from Warhammer 40,000 (each jump could trigger an endgame event featuring extra-dimensional aliens that emerged from the Jump Drive's tearing of realities.). The changes added two new systems with Natural Wormholes and "Jump Gates" with the former being a stable wormhole between two stars on the map and the latter being more like Babylon Five in that you needed an end point, but the end point was not fixed... if a gate existed in a system, it could send and receive from other systems friendly to you.

Again, fans explained the FTL system lore in terms of other scifi fictional comparisons and even the developers described the systems by showing where the got inspiration. Because they were general descriptions and the actual working mechanics of FTL drives was never discussed, it wasn't an issue. "Warp" like Star Trek is fine. But your Warp Engines cannot use dilithium crystals to regulate the matter/anti-matter reaction that powered the drive. Your engine design is on you. Your scientific way around FTL is not. And you don't have to turn into a newt to go Warp 10 (though you should probably change your speed ticks in another way).


Yes, it can be confusing. The basics are simple, through commonly misunderstood, but there are grey area along the borders.

The first and most basic rule of copyright is that you cannot copyright an idea, you can only copyright the expression of an idea. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, is an idea for a story. That same idea has been used a billion times. There is no copyright infringement involved because you can't copyright an idea, only the specific expression of an idea.

Where is begins to get murky are the following areas:

  • How big a section constitutes a copyright violation. The word "warp drive" alone is probably not large enough to enjoy protection, but "The engines cann'ae take it, Captain," might well be. Similarly, if you start to see all the same technology names showing up, even if they are just individual words, that might start to raise eyebrows.

  • Is something a derivative work? If you were to write a brand new story obviously derived from Star Trek, even if you did not quote any words from the original, if you called it Star Hike and used Weft Drive, and impetuous engines and fought Stickoffs, it is likely to be deemed a copyright violation because it is so obviously derivative of Star Trek.

Ultimately, these things are a matter of judgement: the judgement of a judge or jury if someone decides to sue you for copyright infringement.

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with being inspired by a work. Every successful work tends to spawn a flock of similar works in the same spirit and tone as the original.

Spirit and tone, like ideas, are not copyrightable. Write an original work in the same spirit and tone as Star Trek, and you should be fine. But no one can tell you for certain that simply avoiding the use of a word here or a word there will ensure you never get sued. It does not work that way.

And, as always, if you are worried you are trespassing on the boundaries of the law, consult a lawyer, not a web forum.


Warp drives first appeared in science-fiction back in the early nineteen-thirties. As a result warp drives are neither copyright nor trademarked as belonging to Star Trek. Impulse drives is a term coined in the Star Trek franchise. So it may be trademarked by them. Certainly it is more identified with Star Trek. Phasers definitely coined by Star Trek. But fear not, scienc-fiction was always rich in exotic and futuristic weaponry. Such as blasters, disintegrators, vaporizers, disrupters (yes, there not purely a Klingon invention).

Check out older works of science-fiction where there were multiple names for faster-than-light drives. Hyperdrives, ultradrives, supradrives, second-order drives, even FTL drives, and overdrives are all names for FTL concepts. Most cinematic and TV science-fiction franchises have mainly strip-mined prose science-fiction for the names of their toys.


I believe the line is drawn at a point where there is clear intention to use an existing successful sci-fi environment to your advantage. Examples:

Case 1: Your novel has the title of 'My Star Treck' and the front picture is one of the enterprise starships travelling somewhere in space. Your story has nothing to do with the Star Treck universe though.

Case 2: Your novel has nothing to do as title or front picture with Star Treck but your story is clearly connected to the Star Treck fantasy world, prequel of something, sequel of something, parallel on something, where something a Star Treck actual large set of events e.g. a movie plot. Your story resides within Star Treck fantasy world, in other worlds.

I believe that in both the above scenarios you will have copyright problems. Those scenarios are extreme of course, but i think that are beyond doubt that if true, copyrights are involved.

Please keep in mind that i am unaware what happen about comedies; those may have a different set of rules that apply.

About words now, i believe that again they fall to the above statement. Clear intention to take advantage of an existing successful sci-fi world set the line.

Case 1: You copy the entire propulsion system of the Star Treck world. It just look 'scientific enough' for your story, it is the level you want to set to your fiction at.

Case 2: You name your main starship 'Enterprise' and make extensive use of the phrase 'beam me up Scottie!'.

I believe that case 1 is totally harmless while case 2 may raise copyright issues under certain circumstances. Why? This will be triggered after your novel succeeds. Nobody cares for some thousand copies. But if you sell millions that means that your story matters for people.

It is definitely not the propulsion system that talk to the heart of your readers and make your novel a best seller. If your success grows however and start negotiating all kind of rights, starting from movies and series to toys and stuff, then there would be certainly objection because the use of the starship name and a famous phrase alters the feelings of your readers even a little.

But at this point it is your novel that counts and the story you have to tell. Choose a meaningful for your story starship name and made up your phrases (readers will choose their favorite) will actually give more value to your story than simply get 'Enterprise' and 'beam me up Scottie'.

Finally, succeed with your story while using a copied propulsion system from an existing setting cannot trigger any copyright claims. Even if it does, the accuser has to prove your clear intention to take advantage of an existing successful franchise. So he has to explain why you did not 'borrow' something with greater trademark magnitude value, unless the propulsion system alone is as such: The unique element that the franchise you 'stole' from become so successful because of the ... propulsion system!

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