By Jonathan Feniak, Esq., MBA
“Just google it.”, “Throw me the frisbee!”, and “Toss it in the dumpster” are all common phrases many of us use in our daily lives, but did you know that each of them contains a generic trademark? These brand names have become so widely used in conversation that they have become the generic terms used when referring to Internet search engines, flying discs, and large trash bins. There are quite a few everyday words we use that have become the generic term to describe an entire category of products or services. Many of these words started as a brand name that exclusively identified the brand owner of the product or service, but have since been genericized. What is genericization? It is when a company loses the trademark to its brand name for a product or service because the name has become so generic that it is no longer associated with the trademark owner. Some companies do have a trademark brand name even though it’s been widely used as a generic term for decades, while other companies lost their trademark name for various reasons and can no longer lay claim to the brand name they introduced to the world.
How long have these brand names been used as the generic synonym to describe an entire type of product or service? The LLC Attorney team created a timeline of 50 brand names people use as generic terms, and the earliest ones date back to the mid-1800s! Travel through the timeline below to see how often you genericize everyday words that were once, or may still be, registered trademark names.
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Linoleum is believed to be the first brand name to undergo genericide, just 14 years after the name was first introduced. The brand name ‘Linoleum’ was first introduced in 1864 by Frederick Walton, who invented the floor covering that is still used today. He started the Linoleum Manufacturing Company but it wasn’t until five years later, after extensive advertising, that his product began to grow in popularity. In 1878 he brought a lawsuit for trademark infringement against another flooring manufacturer that was using the Linoleum name. However, the brand name had never been trademarked by Walton and the court deemed that linoleum was so widely by then that it had become a generic term.
A brand name doesn’t have to be in use for a century or more to become a generic trademark, in fact, several of the brand names on our timeline were introduced within the past twenty-five years. The most recent generic brand name, Zoom, has only been around since 2011 but its popularity skyrocketed during the pandemic lockdowns. Now, many people use “zoom” as a generalized term for web and video conferencing.
The brand name “Aspirin” was first created by Bayer, in 1897. By 1899 it was sold around the world as an acetylsalicylic acid pain medication, with Bayer trademarking the name the following year. Bayer also introduced and trademarked Heroin around this time, in 1898. What is now known as a deadly street drug was initially sold as a morphine substitute for cough medicine. As a result of the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles, the German company’s U.S. assets were confiscated, including its trademarks. Following 1917, Aspirin and Heroin both became generic trademarks that any U.S. company could use to label their pain medicine or cough suppressant.
Registering a trademark isn’t required but it is in the best interest of a company to register a trademark to protect their intellectual property. Just as you would protect your company against the unexpected through insurance, you should also protect your brand name and logos. Registering trademarks will help protect your brand assets from being used by others without permission.
How much does it cost to trademark a name? Trademarking a name is fairly inexpensive and the cost is calculated on a per-class basis, based on the number of classes the goods or services fall under. According to the U.S. Patenting and Trademark Office, the application fee is $250 or $350 per class. A truly worthwhile investment when it means protecting a trademark brand name that could be worth millions in the future.
If you already own a business or plan on starting one, learn more about how a trademark can protect your company and its intellectual property at LLC Attorney; we cover how to trademark a name, the process of filing a trademark, and what can and cannot be trademarked.
|GENERICIZED: Dry Ice
|GENERICIZED: thermos (lower-case t only)
|GENERICIZED: TV Dinner