Do you know what genericide is? It’s when a once lofty brand name — a market leader — becomes so comfortable on the tongues of consumers that they start using it as a noun, and the mark itself loses its legal power to define the brand. The public appropriates the name for itself, and competitors start using the name as if it were a found object rather than a creation from the mind of man. Sounds a bit silly, doesn’t it? But for those of you who are not initiates into the mysteries of intellectual property law, here’s a sampling of trademarks who ruled the market in their heyday and are now no more.
Aspirin— originally a trademark of Bayer AG for a type of salicylic acid made from willow bark
Cellophane — originally a trademark of DuPont
Dry Ice — originally a trademark by Dry Ice Corporation of America
Escalator — originally a trademark of the Otis Elevator Company
Kerosene — originally trademarked by Abraham Gesner
Mimeograph — originally trademarked by Albert Dick
Thermos — originally a trademark of Thermos GmbH
Touch-Tone — originally a trademark of AT&T
Trampoline — originally trademarked by George Nisse
Videotape — originally a trademark of Ampex Corporation
Yo-Yo — originally a trademark of Duncan Yo-Yo Company
Zipper — originally a trademark of B.F. Goodrich
Are you shocked? Did you grow up using these words as common nouns, thinking that Adam had called them out by name when he named the fish and fowl and beasts of the field? Or did you — like virtually everyone else in the world — merely take them at face value and never give them a passing thought? Now that I’ve focused your attention, let me throw some other words your way, and you tell me whether they are still trademarked or have become part of the common lexicon:
Can I tell you I jumped out of bed and swallowed two aspirin, zipped up my zipper and grabbed a thermos of coffee before driving off in my jeep to xerox a box of documents and fedex them to Chicago before the big hula hoop party at the escalator company? Can I relax in my jacuzzi afterwards with a big styrofoam cup of Coke without having to slap a big ® symbol on everything?
What do you think?
I am a commercial litigator and intellectual property lawyer in Orange County. Although my practice encompasses a wide variety of business disputes, I have a particular fondness for, and am prone to wax philosophical on, the subjects of copyright and trademark infringement in music, literature, art, and film.