Generic or Not

APPLE can never be a trademark for apples but you can have APPLE® as a trademark for computers.

The idea that the generic word for a thing can’t be a trademark for that thing is fundamental to what a trademark is:

A trademark is the exclusive right to use a word, phrase, symbol, design, smell, or sound to sell goods or services.

If one person has the exclusive right to use APPLE to sell apples, then what are other people who sell apples supposed to call them? Now you see why generic words can’t ever be trademarks.

Genericide is when a word starts off as a trademark and becomes the generic word. When a trademark becomes generic, the owner’s exclusive rights go POOF: One minute, the Dempster brothers own exclusive rights to DUMPSTER for “containers for receiving, transporting, and dumping materials” and the next minute, everyone’s allowed to use that word for those containers.

Here are some generonyms (words that were trademarks then became generic): Aspirin, granola, escalator, zipper, trampoline.

Other trademarks are vigilantly avoiding genericide: GOOGLE®, ZOOM®, COKE®, KLEENEX®, CROCK POT®, PING PONG®, XEROX®. Owners of those trademarks don’t want to lose the huge value those words have as trademarks.

Can you guess which of these are registered trademarks and which aren’t? Answers are below:

  • Dry ice
  • Allen for wrenches
  • Popsicle
  • Plexiglass
  • Comic-Con
  • Superglue
  • Onesies

Photo modified for use in featured image is CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication. Thanks to the photographer, Christian Hart, for placing his photo in the public domain. Mr. Hart does not endorse this blog, this post, or the modified use of his photo.

Dry ice – Dead since 1989. It was first registered by Dryice Corporation in 1925 for “carbon dioxide in solidified forms, mixtures, and compounds.”

ALLEN for wrenches. Allen Manufacturing Company first registered in 1969 based on first use in 1946.

Live applications and registrations owned by
San Diego Comic Convention, Inc.

POPSICLE – Still registered for “frozen confections” based on first use in 1923.

Comic-Con – Still a trademark but it’s complicated. San Diego Comic Convention, Inc. owns multiple registrations and applications for COMIC-CON (see list to the right) but there are others who have managed to get registrations in the same field, including: FLORENCE COMICCON; ROSE CITY COMIC CON; HUDSON VALLEY COMIC CON; LEBANON COMIC CON; BRONX HEROES COMIC CON.

Super Glue – No one has ever owned the exclusive right to SUPER GLUE for adhesives. Woodhill Chemical Sales Corporation had some limited rights between 1974 and 1981. Pacer Technology has a registration for THE ORIGINAL SUPER GLUE for “adhesive bonding agents” but had to disclaim their exclusive rights to SUPER GLUE. Meanwhile, Loctite Corporation owned a registration for “cyanoacrylate adhesives” for SUPER GLUE A DROP WILL DO- with no disclaimer of exclusive rights. Loctite abandoned that registration in 1992. Everyone since has had to disclaim exclusive rights to “super glue”.

Onesies – Gerber Products Company registered ONESIES in 1984 based on a first use in 1982. There’s still a live registration for ONESIES for “infant’s [sic] and children’s clothing” based on first use in 1982 and registered in 2002. Gerber has also registered ONESIES for “adult clothing . . . ” The record is littered with the corpses of dead applications trying to register ONESIES. The only one that made it through is a registration for ONESIE for beer owned by Lone Pine Brewing Company.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s