As Generic as Apple Pie

It’s Fourth of July Weekend! Or should I say, “Happy Birthday ‘Merica!”

You probably already know you cannot register a generic term for a product or service. In other words, you cannot use a trademark registration to prevent others from using the term “apple pie” to refer to apple pie. But did you know that distinctive trademarks can become generic if they become too successful? Trademark owners can lose their rights if their trademarks become too commonly used.

Have you ever had a headache and used ASPIRIN? Needed to go up a tall building and used the ESCALATOR? These marks, and many others, have become unenforceable due to “genericide.”

Aspirin was created in 1897 and trademarked by Bayer AG; however, twenty years later, Bayer AG lost its registration because “aspirin” was used widely to mean any medicine that provided fast pain relief.

In the 1900s, Charles Seeberger introduced his new moving staircase, the ESCALATOR. The word came from the Latin term scala for “steps.” The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office eventually found that even the creator used the term “escalator” generically to describe his invention and similar devices.

Sometimes you can be so successful, like VELCRO successful, that you must take proactive steps to avoid becoming a victim of your own success. It is kinda like mo’ money, mo’ problems.

To protect your trademark registration, you should always:

• use your trademark as an adjective, not a noun or verb;
• use the registered trademark symbol ®; and
• use marketing to inform others how to use your mark properly.

This video from VELCRO explains it perfectly:

So, this Fourth of July, when you scrape your knee after a wipeout on your “ROLLERBLADE inline skates,” ask for a “BAND-AID bandage” and a “KLEENEX tissue” to wipe away your tears.

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