Trademark Holders Beware of the Generic Curse

Trademarks are wonderful means for protecting your brand. You want your trademark to be pervasive and resonate in the minds of consumers. You want it to be apart of their everyday life! However, when a trademark becomes so common that it is used at the term for the item or service rather that the brand you run the risk of loosing your trademark because it is generic. Under the Trademark Act generic terms cannot be trademarks.  A generic term is a word that the relevant purchasing public understands primarily as the common name for a particular product or service.

What is kleenex?  If you said tissue, you’re incorrect it is actually a brand of tissue that has become so common it is often used as a generic term. Kleenex is lucky because the company fought and won to keep its trademark alive. However, there are a whole host of others that were not as lucky.  For example, escalator, originally a trademark of the Otis Elevator Company, or aspirin which is still a Bayer trademark name for acetylsalicylic acid in about 80 countries, including Canada and many countries in Europe, but declared generic in the U.S.

Recently the word “skew-ball” also came under scrutiny. Full Circle United, LLC (Full Circle) claims the word “skee-ball” is the common name for the game of skee-ball, which has been an American boardwalk and arcade pastime for over a century.  Full Circle, which organizes skee-ball competitions across the country, was sued by SBI, Inc., a manufacturer of skee-ball machines, and owner of the federal trademark registration of “skee-ball,” for infringement of the term “skee-ball.” Full Circle countered by filing its own complaint alleging that SBI has no rights in the word “skee-ball” because, just like many other marks that have come and gone, such as yo-yo, trampoline, and pilates, skee-ball is generic. This case is still being decided.

This phenomenon is hard to control because you want your brand to be popular but some ways to prevent genericizing a brand are:

A sign in a supermarket using "Jell-O" generically - Image from Wikipedia
A sign in a supermarket using “Jell-O” generically – Image from Wikipedia
  • Use the proper name for the good or service in conjunction with the trademark or brand name. For example, you’ll notice that Kleenex’s brand now reads “Kleenex brand Tissue”
  • Let the world know you have a registered trademark by using the appropriate symbols. Use the letter R enclosed within a circle, ® for federally registered marks and for an unregistered mark, use TM.
  • DO NOT use your trademark as a noun. For example: Put on a BAND-AID – NO! Put on a BAND-AID brand bandage – YES!
  • DO NOT use trademark as a verb or plural. Go XEROX the document – NO! Make a copy with the XEROX copier – YES! I need two Kleenexes – NO! I need two Kleenex tissues. – YES!
  • Police your trademark. Correct others misuse of your trademark
  • Educate the public especially authorized users, distributors, and anyone else consumers will believe have authority or knowledge about the brand.

Be proactive about preventing your brand from becoming a generic term. Although this phenomenon is a symptom of your success you want to avoid loosing your trademark

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Categories: Business, Cyber Law, Intellectual Property, Internet, Marketing/PR

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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