Among my many pathetic hobbies, is an ongoing search for the company that owns the most trademarks in danger of committing genericide.* The current leader is Wham-O Holding, Ltd., which is the proud owner of these endangered registered trademarks:
- Hacky Sack®
- Hula Hoop®
- Slip ‘N Slide®
What’s going on here? Does Wham-O lack the creativity to create a good trademark?
No. The problem is that they’re too creative. They make stuff that no one has ever seen. Before there was a Wham-O Frisbee, there was nothing else like it. So everyone refers to the thing using the trademark, because it’s pretty much the only word out there.
“Hey, cool, what is that?”
“It’s a Hacky Sack brand kick bag,” said no one ever.
If you invent a new thing, in addition to coming up with the trademark, come up with the generic phrase that goes with it.
- Frisbee® brand flying disc.
- Hula Hoop® brand, um, toy, um, hoop?
It’s hard to name something that novel. But it’s an important step. A long time ago, Bayer tried too late to get the headache suffering public to refer to its product as Aspirin brand acetylsalicylic acid. No less than the brilliant Judge Learned Hand wrote:
Had Bayer “not been indifferent . . ., it could have protected itself [at the start]. . .. Instead . . ., they [built up the] demand without regard to the trade-mark. Having made that bed, they must be content to lie in it.”
Yup. That about sums it up.
*Genericide is what happens when a trademark becomes the generic word for the good it’s used the sell. Think ESCALATOR.