Death Defying Trademarks

Ping-Pong_2

A while back, I wrote about genericide and the efforts companies make to prevent their very valuable trademarks from becoming the generic word for what they sell.

Some trademarks are fascinating because they’ve lived for decades defying genercide.

REALTOR® is owned by the National Association of Realtors. The association’s use of REALTOR dates back to 1916 and it’s had a registered mark since 1949.[1] Despite that incredibly long, continuous, and exclusive use, people are often surprised to learn that it’s a trademark and lots of people try to register trademarks that include that word: The Trademark Office has almost 400 dead applications containing REALTOR (or something confusingly similar).

CROCK-POT® is owned by Sunbeam Products, Inc. The registration dates back to 1970. Sunbeam even has a registration for IF IT DOESN’T SAY CROCK-POT THEN IT’S NOT THE ORIGINAL®. Both the Trademark Office and Sunbeam actively protect the CROCK-POT mark by rejecting and opposing applications.[2]

PING PONG® was first registered by Parker Brothers, Inc. in 1930 based on use dating back to 1900.[3]  The owner actively protects the trademark in connection with table tennis goods.

How do they manage to stay alive? Each of these owners protects and polices its trademark to avoid becoming the next zipper or aspirin. It’s hard, but it’s got to be done to stay alive.

 

[1] As of April 1, 2016, the association has 22 registrations and five pending applications.

[2] There are three express abandonments of applications, four office actions, and one opposition brought by Sunbeam.

[3] The use of PING-PONG dates back to 1900. PING PONG (without the hyphen) dates back to 1902. It’s brilliantly onomatopoeic. The trademark is now owned by Escalade Sports. There are now registrations of PING PONG owned by others for jewelry, entertainment, and restaurants. There are also pending applications for roasted nuts, fishing gear and bill payment services.

Photo ©2010 Daniel Schwen.  Used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Trademarks are Forever

Samson

Trademark registrations are the most awesome kind of intellectual property because they can live a long time.

How long?

Really long.

The oldest living registered U.S. trademark is Samson® for rope. That trademark (still in use today) was registered in 1884. Lots of others go back almost as far: CocaCola® and Tiffany® were each registered in 1893. Budweiser® and General Mills® were registered in 1886.

All you have to do to keep your trademark registration alive and well is:

  • keep using the trademark;
  • renew the registration every 10 years; and
  • avoid becoming the generic word for what you sell (genericide).

Contrast that to patents, which have a relatively short life. If patents were people, none would live long enough to buy a drink in the United States. Even worse, many patents now outlive their useful lives. The invention covered by a patent is now sometimes obsolescent even before the patent issues.

Even copyrights die after a fairly long and healthy life. Trade secrets are also awesome. They live for as long as you keep them secret (a trick that’s getting harder and harder these days).

So when you start thinking how valuable patents are, ask yourself: Would you rather own all of Apple’s patents or the Apple® brand? I think that’s a hard decision.