Legal Information, School

Genericide: The Death of a Trademark

I thought we could talk about something a little fun today as I do my last minute preparations for my property final tomorrow. So let’s talk about genericide.

Genericide is the epitome of too much of a good thing. It’s marked by when a trademark becomes so popular that it becomes a term for anything generally of the same kind. Kind of a wonky definition, so let me give some examples.

What do you call “flavored and colored water frozen on a stick?” Well, that’s a popsicle, of course. But it may or may not be a POPSICLE®. Popsicle is trademarked by Unilever and not a generic word for these treats. Using Popsicle to market your product isn’t great move, it’s kind of like saying: “Come to our bulk store that’s exactly like Costco!” Sounds not so great, huh?

Popsicle® | Popsicle® Firecracker® Multi-Pack

Let’s tackle some more examples, shall we?

No, that’s not a frisbee, that’s a flying disk. It was originally made by a company named Wham-O.
Lip balm, not Chapstick.
Bubble wrap was the name coined by the Sealed Air Corporation for the little air-sealed plastic packaging spheres.
You didn’t really think this was a Q-tip, did you?

So is it a good thing when brands reach this level of notoriety?

Not really, no. It starts messing with their ability to use their trademark. If a court rules that it’s a generic term all companies that make that product can use your name. That’s disastrous for a company.

Some brands adamantly fight against genericide to the point where they can maintain their trademark. Google, for example, has managing to maintain it’s trademark despite everyone using the term google as a verb.

Other brands are not so lucky. In Haughton Elevator Co. v. Seeberger, Charles Seeberger, the man who may or may not have brought you the term escalator, assigned the trademark to the Otis Elevator Company. Another escalator company sued, claiming it was a generic term and won.

But get this – the court discovered that Seeberger had used the word escalator in a generic way himself by writing patents that used the word escalator to describe the products. Whoops.

And that is why we call those moving stairs escalators.

I challenge you to look around the house and at products at the store. You’ll be shocked at how many cases of genericide lie right in front of you. The little words you don’t even think about represented strong brands that may or may not have survived their linguistic deaths. It’s a bit crazy to think about – might need to take an aspirin.

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