Genericized trademark
A genericized trademark (also known as a generic trademark, proprietary eponym) is a trademark
A trademark, trade mark, or trade-mark is a distinctive sign or indicator used by an individual, business organization, or other legal entity to identify that the products or services to consumers with which the trademark appears originate from a unique source, and to distinguish its products or...

 or brand name that has become the colloquial
A colloquialism is a word or phrase that is common in everyday, unconstrained conversation rather than in formal speech, academic writing, or paralinguistics. Dictionaries often display colloquial words and phrases with the abbreviation colloq. as an identifier...

 or generic description for, or synonymous with, a general class of product
Good (economics and accounting)
In economics, a good is something that is intended to satisfy some wants or needs of a consumer and thus has economic utility. It is normally used in the plural form—goods—to denote tangible commodities such as products and materials....

 or service, rather than as an indicator of source or affiliation ("secondary meaning") as intended by the trademark's holder. Using a genericized trademark to refer to the general form of what that trademark represents is a form of metonymy
Metonymy is a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept...


A trademark is said to fall somewhere along a scale from "distinctive" to "generic" (used primarily as a common name for the product or service rather than an indication of source). Among distinctive trademarks the scale goes from strong to weak:
  • "Arbitrary": having no meaning as to the nature of the product
  • "Fanciful" or "coined": original and having little if any reference to the nature of the product or service
  • "Suggestive": having primarily trademark significance but with suggestion as to nature of product
  • "Descriptive": not just suggesting, but actually describing the product or service yet still understood as indicating source
  • "Merely descriptive": having almost entirely reference to the product or service but capable of becoming "distinctive".

A trademark is said to be genericized when it began as distinctive but has changed in meaning to become generic. A trademark typically becomes "genericized" when the products or services with which it is associated have acquired substantial market dominance or mind share
Mind share
Mind share, or the development of consumer awareness or popularity, is one of the main objectives of advertising and promotion. When people think of examples of a product type or category, they usually think of a limited number of brand names. For example, a prospective buyer of a college education...

 such that the primary meaning of the genericized trademark becomes the product or service itself rather than an indication of source for the product or service to such an extent that the public thinks the trademark is the generic name of the product or service. A trademark thus popularized has its legal protection at risk in some countries such as the United States, as unless the owner of an affected trademark works sufficiently to correct and prevent such broad use its intellectual property
Intellectual property
Intellectual property is a term referring to a number of distinct types of creations of the mind for which a set of exclusive rights are recognized—and the corresponding fields of law...

 rights in the trademark may be lost and competitors enabled to use the genericized trademark to describe their similar products.

Genericization or "loss of secondary meaning" may be either among the general population or among just a subpopulation, for example, people who work in a particular industry. Some examples of the latter type from the vocabulary of physicians include the names Luer-Lok (Luer lock)
Luer Taper
The Luer taper is a standardized system of small-scale fluid fittings used for making leak-free connections between a male-taper fitting and its mating female part on medical and laboratory instruments, including hypodermic syringe tips and needles or stopcocks and needles...

 and Port-a-Cath (portacath)
Port (medical)
In medicine, a port is a small medical appliance that is installed beneath the skin. A catheter connects the port to a vein...

, which have genericized mind share (among physicians) because (1) the users may not realize that the term is a brand name rather than a medical eponym or generic-etymology term, and (2) no alternate generic name for the idea readily comes to mind. Most often, genericization occurs because of heavy advertising that fails to provide an alternate generic name or that uses the trademark in similar fashion to generic terms. Thus, when Otis Elevator Company advertised that it offered "the latest in elevator and escalator design," it was using the well-known generic term elevator and Otis's trademark "Escalator" for moving staircases in the same way. The Trademark Office and the Courts concluded that, if Otis used their trademark in that generic way, they could not stop Westinghouse from calling its moving staircases "escalators", and a valuable trademark was lost through "genericization."

The pharmaceutical industry affords some protection from genericization due to the modern practice of assigning a generic name for a drug based upon chemical structure. Examples of genericization prior to the modern system of generic drugs
Generic drug
A generic drug is a drug defined as "a drug product that is comparable to brand/reference listed drug product in dosage form, strength, route of administration, quality and performance characteristics, and intended use." It has also been defined as a term referring to any drug marketed under its...

 include aspirin
Aspirin , also known as acetylsalicylic acid , is a salicylate drug, often used as an analgesic to relieve minor aches and pains, as an antipyretic to reduce fever, and as an anti-inflammatory medication. It was discovered by Arthur Eichengrun, a chemist with the German company Bayer...

, introduced to the market in 1897, and heroin, introduced in 1898. Both were originally trademarks of Bayer AG.


A few examples of trademarks that have lost their legal protection in the US are:
  • Aspirin
    Aspirin , also known as acetylsalicylic acid , is a salicylate drug, often used as an analgesic to relieve minor aches and pains, as an antipyretic to reduce fever, and as an anti-inflammatory medication. It was discovered by Arthur Eichengrun, a chemist with the German company Bayer...

    , originally a trademark of Bayer AG
  • Butterscotch
    Butterscotch is a type of confectionery whose primary ingredients are brown sugar and butter, although other ingredients such as corn syrup, cream, vanilla, and salt are part of some recipes...

    , originally a trademark of S. Parkinson & Sons
  • Escalator
    An escalator is a moving staircase – a conveyor transport device for carrying people between floors of a building. The device consists of a motor-driven chain of individual, linked steps that move up or down on tracks, allowing the step treads to remain horizontal.Escalators are used around the...

    , originally a trademark of Otis Elevator Company
    Otis Elevator Company
    The Otis Elevator Company is the world's largest manufacturer of vertical transportation systems today, principally focusing on elevators and escalators...

  • Heroin, originally a trademark of Bayer AG
  • Kerosene
    Kerosene, sometimes spelled kerosine in scientific and industrial usage, also known as paraffin or paraffin oil in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Ireland and South Africa, is a combustible hydrocarbon liquid. The name is derived from Greek keros...

    , originally a trademark of Abraham Gesner
  • Phillips-head screw, named after Henry F. Phillips
    Henry F. Phillips
    Henry F. Phillips was a U.S. businessman from Portland, Oregon. The Phillips-head screw and screwdriver are named after him....

  • Pogo for the toy Pogo stick
    Pogo stick
    A pogo stick is a device for jumping off the ground in a standing position with the aid of a spring, used as a toy or exercise equipment. It consists of a pole with a handle at the top and footrests near the bottom, and a spring located somewhere along the pole...

  • Thermos
    Vacuum flask
    A vacuum flask is an insulating storage vessel which keeps its contents hotter or cooler than its surroundings. Invented by Sir James Dewar in 1892, the vacuum flask consists of two flasks, placed one within the other and joined at the neck...

    , originally a trademark of Thermos GmbH
  • Yo-yo
    The yo-yo in its simplest form is an object consisting of an axle connected to two disks, and a length of twine looped around the axle, similar to a slender spool...

    , originally a trademark of Duncan Yo-Yo Company
  • Zipper
    A zipper is a commonly used device for temporarily joining two edges of fabric...

    , originally a trademark of B.F. Goodrich
    Goodrich Corporation
    The Goodrich Corporation , formerly the B.F. Goodrich Company, is an American aerospace manufacturing company based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Founded in Akron, Ohio in 1870 as Goodrich, Tew & Co. by Dr. Benjamin Franklin Goodrich. The company name was changed to the "B.F...

While Linoleum
Linoleum is a floor covering made from renewable materials such as solidified linseed oil , pine rosin, ground cork dust, wood flour, and mineral fillers such as calcium carbonate, most commonly on a burlap or canvas backing; pigments are often added to the materials.The finest linoleum floors,...

, coined by its inventor and patent holder Frederick Walton
Frederick Walton
Frederick Edward Walton , was an English manufacturer and inventor who invented Linoleum in Staines and Lincrusta ....

, is the first product term ruled by a court as generic, it was never used as a trademark.

Other trademarks have come close to genericization, but have been rescued by aggressive corrective campaigns. Such is the case with Xerox
Xerox Corporation is an American multinational document management corporation that produced and sells a range of color and black-and-white printers, multifunction systems, photo copiers, digital production printing presses, and related consulting services and supplies...

 for photocopiers, Plexiglas for shatter-resistant polymer glass, Kleenex
Kleenex is a brand name for a variety of toiletry paper-based products such as facial tissue, bathroom tissue, paper towels, and diapers. The name Kleenex is a registered trademark of Kimberly-Clark Worldwide, Inc. Often used as a genericized trademark, especially in the United States, "Kleenex"...

 for facial tissues, Band-Aid
Band-Aid is a brand name for Johnson & Johnson's line of adhesive bandages and related products. It has also become a genericized trademark for any adhesive bandage in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India and the United States....

 for adhesive bandages, and others. A trademark owner takes a risk in engaging in such a corrective campaign because the campaign may serve as an admission that the trademark is generic. So, the owner must irreversibly commit to continuing the campaign until relatively sure the trademark has achieved primary meaning as a trademark rather than as a common name of the product or service.

Legal concepts

Whether or not a mark is popularly identified as genericized, the owner of the mark may still be able to enforce the proprietary
Property is any physical or intangible entity that is owned by a person or jointly by a group of people or a legal entity like a corporation...

 rights that attach to the use or registration of the mark, as long as the mark continues to exclusively identify the owner as the commercial origin of the applicable products or services. If the mark does not perform this essential function and it is no longer possible to legally enforce rights in relation to the mark, the mark may have become generic. In many legal systems (e.g., in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 but not in Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

) a generic mark forms part of the public domain
Public domain
Works are in the public domain if the intellectual property rights have expired, if the intellectual property rights are forfeited, or if they are not covered by intellectual property rights at all...

 and can be commercially exploited by anyone. Nevertheless, there exists the possibility of a trademark's becoming a revocable generic term in German (and European) trademark law.

The process by which trademark rights are diminished or lost as a result of common use in the marketplace is known as generification or genericide. This process typically occurs over a period of time in which a mark is not used as a trademark (i.e., where it is not used to exclusively identify the products or services of a particular business), where a mark falls into disuse entirely, or where the trademark owner does not enforce its rights through actions
A lawsuit or "suit in law" is a civil action brought in a court of law in which a plaintiff, a party who claims to have incurred loss as a result of a defendant's actions, demands a legal or equitable remedy. The defendant is required to respond to the plaintiff's complaint...

 for passing off or trademark infringement
Trademark infringement
Trademark infringement is a violation of the exclusive rights attaching to a trademark without the authorization of the trademark owner or any licensees...


One risk factor that may lead to genericide is the use of a trademark as a verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

, plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

 or possessive
Possessive pronoun
A possessive pronoun is a part of speech that substitutes for a noun phrase that begins with a possessive determiner . For example, in the sentence These glasses are mine, not yours, the words mine and yours are possessive pronouns and stand for my glasses and your glasses, respectively...

, unless the mark itself is possessive or plural (e.g., "Friendly's" restaurants). Some trademarks are so well-known that they are understood as trademarks even when used generically, and the generic use is deliberately made in ads to emphasize that fact ("COKE
Coca-Cola is a carbonated soft drink sold in stores, restaurants, and vending machines in more than 200 countries. It is produced by The Coca-Cola Company of Atlanta, Georgia, and is often referred to simply as Coke...

 is it" or "When you say BUDWEISER
Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch)
Budweiser is a 5.0% abv American-style lager introduced in 1876 by Adolphus Busch and one of the highest selling beers in the United States. It is made with up to 30% rice in addition to hops and barley malt. Budweiser is produced in various breweries located around the world...

, you've said it all.").

Avoiding generification

Trademark owners will naturally seek to maximize the popularity of their marks. However, generic use of a trademark presents an inherent risk to the effective enforcement of trademark rights and may ultimately lead to genericide.

Trademark owners may take various steps to reduce the risk of genericide, including educating businesses and consumers on appropriate trademark use, avoiding use of their marks in a generic manner, and systematically and effectively enforcing their trademark rights. If a trademark is associated with a new invention
An invention is a novel composition, device, or process. An invention may be derived from a pre-existing model or idea, or it could be independently conceived, in which case it may be a radical breakthrough. In addition, there is cultural invention, which is an innovative set of useful social...

, the trademark owner may also consider developing a generic term for the product to be used in descriptive contexts, to avoid inappropriate use of the "house" mark. Such a term is called a generic descriptor, and is frequently used immediately after the trademark to provide a description of the product or service. For example, "Kleenex tissues" ("facial tissues" being the generic descriptor) or "Velcro Brand fasteners" for Velcro brand name hook-and-loop fasteners.

Another common practice amongst trademark owners is to follow their trademark with the word brand to help define the word as a trademark. Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson is an American multinational pharmaceutical, medical devices and consumer packaged goods manufacturer founded in 1886. Its common stock is a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the company is listed among the Fortune 500....

 changed the lyrics of their Band-Aid
Band-Aid is a brand name for Johnson & Johnson's line of adhesive bandages and related products. It has also become a genericized trademark for any adhesive bandage in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India and the United States....

 television commercial jingle from, "I am stuck on Band-Aids, 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me" to "I am stuck on Band-Aid brand, 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me." Google
Google Inc. is an American multinational public corporation invested in Internet search, cloud computing, and advertising technologies. Google hosts and develops a number of Internet-based services and products, and generates profit primarily from advertising through its AdWords program...

 has gone to lengths to prevent this process, discouraging publications from using the term 'googling' in reference to web-searches. In 2006, both the Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...

 and the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary struck a balance between acknowledging widespread use of the verb coinage and preserving the particular search engine's association with the coinage, defining google
Google (verb)
The transitive verb to google refers to using the Google search engine to obtain information on the Web. However, it can also be used as a general term for searching the internet using any search engine, not just Google...

(all lower case, with -le ending) as a verb meaning "use the Google search engine to obtain information on the Internet".

Where a trademark is used generically, a trademark owner may need to take special proactive measures to retain exclusive right
Exclusive right
In Anglo-Saxon law, an exclusive right is a de facto, non-tangible prerogative existing in law to perform an action or acquire a benefit and to permit or deny others the right to perform the same action or to acquire the same benefit. A "prerogative" is in effect an exclusive right...

s to the trademark. Xerox corporation
Xerox Corporation is an American multinational document management corporation that produced and sells a range of color and black-and-white printers, multifunction systems, photo copiers, digital production printing presses, and related consulting services and supplies...

 was able to generally prevent the genericide of its core trademark through an extensive public relations campaign advising consumers to "photocopy" instead of "xerox" documents.

One example of an active effort to prevent the genericization of a trademark was that of the LEGO Company
Lego is a line of construction toys manufactured by the Lego Group, a privately held company based in Billund, Denmark. The company's flagship product, Lego, consists of colorful interlocking plastic bricks and an accompanying array of gears, minifigures and various other parts...

, which printed in manuals in the 1970s and 1980s a request to customers that they call the company's interlocking plastic building blocks "'LEGO bricks', 'blocks' or 'toys', and not 'LEGOs'." While this went largely unheeded, and many children and adults in the U.S. referred to and continue to refer to the pieces as "LEGOs", use of the deprecated term remained largely confined to the LEGO Company's own products – and not, for example, to Tyco
Tyco may refer to:* Tyco International, a diversified industrial conglomerate* Tyco Electronics, a former segment of Tyco International* Tyco Toys, a division of Mattel...

's competing and interchangeable product – so genericization of the LEGO trademark did not occur.

Protected designation of origin

Since 2003, the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

 has actively sought to restrict the use of geographical indication
Geographical indication
A geographical indication is a name or sign used on certain products which corresponds to a specific geographical location or origin...

s by third parties outside the EU by enforcing laws regarding "protected designation of origin
Protected designation of origin
Protected Geographical Status is a legal framework defined in European Union law to protect the names of regional foods. Protected Designation of Origin , Protected Geographical Indication and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed are distinct regimes of geographical indications within the framework...

". Although a geographical indication for specialty food or drink may be generic, it is not a trademark because it does not serve to identify exclusively a specific commercial enterprise and therefore cannot constitute a genericized trademark.

The extension of protection for geographical indications is somewhat controversial because a geographical indication may have been registered as a trademark elsewhere. For example, if "Parma Ham" were part of a trademark registered in Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 by a Canadian manufacturer, ham manufacturers actually located in Parma
Parma is a city in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna famous for its ham, its cheese, its architecture and the fine countryside around it. This is the home of the University of Parma, one of the oldest universities in the world....

, Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 might be unable to use this name in Canada.
Bordeaux wine
A Bordeaux wine is any wine produced in the Bordeaux region of France. Average vintages produce over 700 million bottles of Bordeaux wine, ranging from large quantities of everyday table wine, to some of the most expensive and prestigious wines in the world...

 wines, cheeses such as Roquefort, Parmesan, and Feta, Pisco
Pisco is a colorless or yellowish-to-amber colored grape brandy produced in winemaking regions of Chile and Peru. Pisco was developed by Spanish settlers in the 16th century as an alternative to orujo, a pomace brandy that was being imported from Spain...

 liquor, and Scotch
Scotch whisky
Scotch whisky is whisky made in Scotland.Scotch whisky is divided into five distinct categories: Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Single Grain Scotch Whisky, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky , Blended Grain Scotch Whisky, and Blended Scotch Whisky.All Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for at least three...

whisky are examples of geographical indications.

In the 1990s, the Parma consortium successfully sued the Asda
Asda Stores Ltd is a British supermarket chain which retails food, clothing, general merchandise, toys and financial services. It also has a mobile telephone network, , Asda Mobile...

A supermarket, a form of grocery store, is a self-service store offering a wide variety of food and household merchandise, organized into departments...

 chain to prevent it using the description "Parma ham" on prosciutto
Prosciutto |ham]]) or Parma ham is a dry-cured ham that is usually thinly sliced and served uncooked; this style is called prosciutto crudo in Italian and is distinguished from cooked ham, prosciutto cotto....

 produced in Parma but sliced outside the Parma region.

See also

  • Brand
    The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a "Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers."...

  • Brand management
    Brand management
    Brand management is the application of marketing techniques to a specific product, product line, or brand.The discipline of brand management was started at Procter & Gamble as a result of a famous memo by Neil H...

  • Eponym
    An eponym is the name of a person or thing, whether real or fictitious, after which a particular place, tribe, era, discovery, or other item is named or thought to be named...

  • Proper adjective
    Proper adjective
    In English usage, a proper adjective is an adjective that takes an initial capital letter. A common adjective is an adjective that is not a proper adjective...

  • Synecdoche
    Synecdoche , meaning "simultaneous understanding") is a figure of speech in which a term is used in one of the following ways:* Part of something is used to refer to the whole thing , or...

  • Trademark dilution
    Trademark dilution
    Trademark dilution is a trademark law concept giving the owner of a famous trademark standing to forbid others from using that mark in a way that would lessen its uniqueness. In most cases, trademark dilution involves an unauthorized use of another's trademark on products that do not compete with,...

  • Trademark erosion
    Trademark erosion
    Trademark erosion is a special case of antonomasia related to trademarks. It happens when a trademark becomes so common that it starts being used as a common name and the original company failed to prevent its use...

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.