What is a Generic Trademark?

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Everyone knows what an escalator is. The word escalator is a term used to describe a moving staircase. But what many people don’t know is that back in the 1940s, the word “ESCALATOR” was a trademarked name owned by the Otis Elevator Company.  That meant the term could not be used in the general sense to describe a moving staircase and was intended to identify the source of a particular type of moving staircase manufactured by Otis. However, this changed when in the landmark case Haughton Elevator Co. v. Seeberger, the court concluded the word “ESCALATOR” constituted a generic term for a moving staircase, thereby extinguishing the term’s original trademark status.

A trademark is rendered generic when the trademark is used to identify the actual product or service as a whole rather than identification of the source of the product or service.  In other words, a mark becomes “genericized” when it is used by the general public as a generic verb, which identifies a class of certain products or services. Other examples of famous “genericized” trademarks include zipper, aspirin, kerosene, Philips-head screw, yo-yo and thermos.

In recent times, Google is a great example of a company undertaking extensive efforts to prevent their name from becoming genericized.  As a search engine, Google offers online-based searches that you can also find on Yahoo or Bing.  However, because of Google’s dominating presence in the business of search engines the public has started using the term Google to identify all search engines, not just Google’s search engine. Although from a marketing standpoint such substantial use of the name is good news for Google, Google also does not want the term to become a generic trademark, as this would allow anyone to commercially exploit it. To see more of a discussion regarding use of Google as a verb, see Wikipedia’s discussion.

Also, check out an example of CHANEL taking action to prevent their mark from becoming genericized.

For more information about generic trademarks or registering your trademark, please visit our website at www.onlinetrademarkattorneys.com.

Published April 24, 2013 by Alex Spurr.

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