Genericization is use of specific affluent brands as the name of general products. The use of a brand name as a generic term results in the company losing all its exclusive rights to that term or “mark.” In essence, the more popular the brand, the greater the possibility the company may lose exclusivity of its brand or company. This is known as genericization. A trademark attorney has the ability to help in cases of genericide.
Examples of Brands that have Experienced Genericization
Kleenex is a brand name for a line of paper-based products. Such products include tissue (facial and bathroom), paper towels, feminine hygiene products, and diapers. Kleenex is a registered trademark of the company Kimberly-Clark. Other Kimberly-Clark brands include Kotex, Huggies, Cottonelle, and more.
Kleenex sells their facial issue in multiple continents. However, in the United States, it is common for people to ask “can you hand me a kleenex” rather than asking for a tissue. So common in fact, that it is considered genericized, however not legally. Kleenex represents all facial tissue, regardless of the brand. Multiple dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster or Oxford include “kleenex” in their publications.
Kimberly-Clark fought against the term “kleenex” becoming generic by issuing a statement on a full page advertisement in Brandweek that read:
“You don’t need a Social Security number to get your identity stolen. When you spend nearly a century building a name that people know and trust, the last thing you want is people calling any old tissue a Kleenex® Tissue. Simply put, ‘Kleenex’ is a brand name and should always be followed by an ® and the word ‘Tissue.’ Please help us keep our identity, ours.”
Band-Aid is a brand name for adhesive bandages owned by the company Johnson & Johnson.
Other Johnson & Johnson brands include Aveeno, Tylenol, Listerine, and more. Aside from adhesive bandages, other Band-Aid products include first aid kits, antiseptic wound cleansing liquid, medical paper tape, and more.
Johnson and Johnson sells products worldwide. However, in the United States, Canada, and South America, consumers use “band-aid” for the term adhesive bandage as it too long. This had yet to affect the company, as Band-Aid is still considered a valid registered trademark of Johnson & Johnson.
Aspirin is a brand name for acetylsalicylic acid medication sold worldwide. This type of medicine is used to relieve pain and reduce fever or inflammation. The brand Aspirin is a registered trademark of the German pharmaceutical company Bayer AG. The name Aspirin is derived from the prefix “acetyl” and “spirsäure,” a German name for salicylic acid. Other recognized Bayer brands include Aleve, Alka-Seltzer, Claritin, and more.
Aspirin is a legally genericized trademark since 1917. That year, Bayer was involved in a notable trademark genericide case Bayer Co. v. United Drug Co. The United States government decided to revoke almost all of Bayer’s intellectual property rights to the mark “aspirin.” Bayer’s patent for the product naturally expired in 1917.
A frisbee is used to describe a flying disk used for sport or for play. Frisbee is a registered trademark of Wham-O toy company. Other known Wham-O toys include Slip N’ Slide, Silly String, Magic Sand, and more.
Before Frisbee, other names included Whirlo-Way, Flyin-Saucer, and Pluto Platter. Wham-O held a trademark for “Plutto Platter” before renaming their product Frisbee after discovering children nicknamed the toy frisbies. The nickname originally came from Frisbee Pie company in Connecticut. Although genericized, Frisbee is still a valid registered trademark.
Escalator is used to describe a moving stairway attached to a continuously circulating belt. The term “escalator” was coined by Charles Seeberger who combined the words “scala,” latin for steps, and elevator. Seeberger partnered with Otis Elevator Co. to produce the first commercial escalator in 1899. Then in 1910, Otis Elevator Co. bought the intellectual property rights to the escalator invention and began to dominate the industry of escalators.
In 1950, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) ruled that the mark “escalator” had become too common of a term for all moving stairways. It was then when Otis Company Co. lost all exclusive intellectual property rights to the mark. It is believed the company made the unfortunate mistake that led to the genericization when they used the mark in the form of a noun in an advertisement reading “the latest in elevator and escalator design.”
Zipper was the brand name for a separable fastener invented in 1913 by Gideon Sundback. The word zip was already a noun and verb that was being used to describe the sound made from fastening. A company named B. F. Goodrich decided to use Sundback’s patented invention on their rubber boots. The company began referring to the fastener as a zipper after an executive said “zip ‘er up.”
“Zipper” became a trademark in 1925 owned by company B. F. Goodrich. Only five years later in 1930, the company had lost it’s exclusive rights to “zipper” because it became too generic to the public. B. F. Goodrich was able to keep the trademark “Zipper Boots” for his original idea of rubber boots with a zipper fastener.
Granola is a trademark with an interesting history. Prior to the term “granola” existing, granula was coined by James Jackson in 1863 before John Kellogg stole the product as well as its name. Kellogg tweaked the original recipe in order to avoid infringement, but this did not work out well. Jackson sued Kellogg for trademark infringement, forcing Kellogg to change the name. From granula to granola, Kellogg did not make a drastic change to the name.
Granola is still a registered trademark of Kellogg, however, only in the countries of Australia and New Zealand. The trademark is still considered valid in those countries because “granola” is not a common term used there. Instead of granola, they say “muesli.” Other Kellogg food brands include Pop-Tarts, Eggo, Froot Loops, and more.
Ping-Pong is a brand of boxed table tennis sets originally trademarked by British manufacturer John Jacques & Sons in 1901. The company eventually sold the trademark to the Parker Brothers, who at the time were one of the biggest U.S. game companies. Then in the 1970s, Escalade Sports, a sports equipment company, bought all the rights to the trademark of “ping-pong.” Because Ping-Pong is still a valid registered trademark, Escalade Sports is able to license out the trademark to any other table tennis manufacturers or distributors that want to use the mark.
Sharpie is arguably the most popular brand of permanent makers, so popular the brand is commonly used when referring to any permanent marker. Inspired by the Magic Marker, the Sanford Ink Company launched Sharpie in 1964.
Sharpie is still a valid registered trademark of Newell Brands as of 2023. Other Newell Brands include Expo, Coleman, Rubbermaid, and more. Sharpie has spent thousands of dollars in advertising campaigns in an effort to fight against genericization. Advertisement campaigns demonstrate the specific use of trademarks and the origin of company’s goods or services.
ChapStick is one of the most popular brands of lip balm sold worldwide. Experiments on lip balm began in the 1890s when pharmacist Charles Fleet created a blend of oitment and medication. In 1912, Fleet sold his blend recipe to John Morton who developed practicality to both the lip balm and its packaging with help from his wife. The Mortons called their new lip balm “ChapStick.”
This brand of lip balms now seemingly covers all lip balms as the phrase “can I have some chapstick” is used often. Aside from lip balm, other ChapStick products include lip scrubs, lip oils, and tinted lip balms. ChapStick is still a valid registered trademark of Haleon as of 2023. Other recognized Haleon brands include Aquafresh, Flonase, Advil, and more.