Eponym or Generic Names

It is now very popular for people to use a brand name as a generic term when discussing about, or requesting for an item. For example, there is a high tendency for you to request for kleenex if you need to blow your nose. However, this does not necessarily mean that you specifically want that brand as a matter of compulsion.

There are numerous other instances of people referring to an item by calling it just a brand name even though that item does not even belong to the brand mentioned.

You are perhaps aware of this, and have probably used such terms, even if subconsciously. Names like Velcro, trampoline, zipper, maclean, and so on may have found their way into the dictionary but they are actually company trademarks for certain products which turned out to be highly successful and popular that they went on to become the general name that a group of similar products are called.

When this happens, we say that such a name is a proprietary eponym or generic name. This however does not always bode well for the companies of such brands because popular use of the trademark to represent such a wide range of similar products from different companies could lead to a demise of their own brand’s identity.

When a term becomes so popular that it is being used to represent additional brands other than the one it is meant to represent, to such an extent that it represents the entire commodity, it could be argued from a legal perspective that such a term can no longer be correctly used to identify the brand alone, hence there is a high tendency for that brand to lose its trademark. This is because trademark law does not allow the use of descriptive or generic words in registering a brand.

Situations where a brand has been forced to give up its trademark because the trademark has become a generic term abound. For example, the 1921 legal case between Bayer and United Drug which saw Bayer lose its Aspirin trademark is a celebrated case of what experts have now come to refer to as “genericide”.

The judgment was unprecedented and set the precedent for subsequent cases of similar nature. Brands such as Laundromat and cellophane are a few of the brands to have lost the3ir trademarks as a result of genericide.

There are still quite a number of proprietary eponyms whose companies still hold on to their brand’s trademark. Velcro, as popular as it has become, is still a registered trademark of the company bearing the same name; Frisbee belongs to Wham-O, and Bubble Wrap still remains a brand of Sealed Air. They are now generic terms for their respective commodities, even though these conditions these commodities are now becoming obsolete.

Prevent the generic use

A lot of companies taking steps to prevent the generic use of their brand trademark. Strategies used include avoiding the plural form of the trademarks, for example opting to say “Lego bricks” rather than “Legos”; or using the trademark as an adjective, rather than as a verb, with a good example being, “make use of a Xerox copier”, rather than saying “help Xerox this”. In addition to this, the usage of distinctive typeface is used to enhance the distinctiveness of the brand’s trademark, for example, “he gave us a bottle of Coca-Cola each”. In this case, coca-cola, the brand name is italicized to distinguish it as a trademark rather than a normal word.

Other firms are taking even more drastic and more pronounced steps. Large corporations are been known to have undertaken advertising campaigns to sensitize people that their name is actually a brand and does not apply to similar products made by other companies.

For instance, Xerox ran an advert in which they informed the public about the consequences of the public’s wrong use of their trademark while pleading with them to help prevent the trademark. Xerox’s trademark still remains intact till today. The same is also true for Clorox and Rollerblade who ran similar ads.

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It is quite ironic that little brands whose names were arbitrarily made up and were hitherto unknown words are the ones who stand the greatest chance of getting a trademark registration. However, as time goes on, the registered trademark might be subjected to generalization and it may prove difficult for the companies concerned to protect against this.

This is because the names did not exist before, hence were not associated with any action; they then become popular and people can unwittingly start using that name to represent the action, with a good example being Xerox. It is however possible for a company to regain its trademark if consumers can begin to use the brand name to represent the company’s product alone rather than the entire category of products.

Brand Name > Product

In conclusion, while you may not think twice about using words such as Kleenex to refer to any type of tissue, this is a real headache for the firms concerned and they are leaving no stone in ensuring that you do not bring an end to their trademark. You can empathize with them because after all, the trademark is their intellectual property.