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  • Writer's pictureTodd

What is trademark genericide?




As previously discussed regarding the Distinctiveness Spectrum, the Lanham Act prohibits registration for generic names. Bayer used to have a trademark for Aspirin in the United States, but after people considered aspirin a generic term for painkillers, Aspirin lost its trademark status and became generic. There is a term for this: genericide.


Names of some of the products we use every day once had trademark protection, but have now become generic descriptors of the goods or services. For example, Zipper was a registered trademark. Now, we refer to any fastening device with teeth on clothing as a zipper regardless of who manufactured it. Escalator also used to be a registered trademark. Now, any moving staircase is called an escalator regardless of whether it is made by Otis Escalator Company.


It might seem like everybody using their name would be great for a company. But it really isn’t. Companies may want their products to be so well-known, but they don’t want other companies swooping into the marketplace and selling inferior products using their good name.


Some companies go to great lengths to implore people to not use their brand names generically. Band-Aid® added the word “brand” to the jingle “I am stuck on Band-Aid® Brand ‘cause a Band-Aid®’s stuck on me!” in an attempt to stop people from referring to any bandage as a band-aid. Many trademark experts think Band-Aid is generic, but the registration Johnson and Johnson received in 1925 is still live and has not been cancelled.


Xerox® publishes ads asking consumers to “photocopy” documents instead of “xerox” them. A few years ago, Velcro® released a very funny video literally begging consumers to call non-Velcro® brand fasteners “hook and loop.”


Google® recently won a lawsuit filed by plaintiffs seeking cancellation of the trademark as generic. Think about the way you use “google.” Do you use it as a verb for all Internet searches? Or do you only say “google” when you use Google®?


Word usage matters to protect valuable trademarks and prevent genericide.


Please note that the information contained in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and not as specific legal advice. The facts of your situation may differ from this general information. It is not intended to and does not in any way establish an attorney-client relationship.


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