Good branding will take your business far. But how far is too far?
Have you ever called an item by a name without thinking twice? What you may not realise is that these names are brand names owned by companies. In other words, the name of the product that is widely used and recognised is not the actual name of the product itself.
This process of a brand name replacing the actual name of the product to become a familiar term used in daily conversation is called genericide. In our previous article, we explained that genericide occurs when a trademark loses its distinctiveness after its registration to become a generic trademark, a common word for a type of good or service.
Here are twelve brands that have fallen from the good graces of trademarking… into the public domain.
Aspirin, also known as acetylsalicylic acid, is a popular medicinal remedy for pain, fever and inflammation, and has been for hundreds of years. Aspirin was a brand name trademarked by Bayer AG, who lost its assets during the First World War, including intellectual property rights. Today, Aspirin is still legally considered as a mark in certain parts of the United States.
Fake grass? More like artificial turf, or rather, Astroturf. Its popularity skyrocketed as sport stadiums began replacing real grass with its artificial counterpart, which spurred commentators to discuss how the change implemented affected game play. Astroturf was founded by Monsanto Company and was first installed in the Astrodome in Houston, Texas.
Created in the 1920s by Johnson&Johnson, the Band-Aid is known to us today as the does-all adhesive bandage for cuts and wounds. To the surprise of many, the medical product gained slow and little traction in its early years of production, but it gained significance over the years as a generic trademark for adhesive bandages, despite remaining a legal trademark in current times.
Invented in 1880s by Charles Browne Fleet, the ChapStick gained popularity over the years as a lip moisturisation product housed in a long, cylindrical tube. ChapStick was previously a brand owned by Pfizer and is now produced by GlaxoSmithKline. The product’s success meant commercial lip balms presented in similar packaging have come to be recognised as and called chapsticks.
Coke remains trademarked by the Coca-Cola Company. However, Coke has lost strength as a trademark as the word itself has been used to describe both the drink owned by the company itself and other carbonated soft drinks. Coke, and even in some cases, Cola, are words that have transcended its trademarked use to describe drinks or flavours resembling the flavours of the original Coke.
A summer staple, the Frisbee is a flying disc made of plastic to be tossed between two parties… for entertainment. The word Frisbee was originally trademarked by toy manufacturing giant Wham-O. Although competitors may not name their versions of flying discs as Frisbee, the popularity of the toy meant that the general public recognised flying discs as such.
The most used search engine in the world is no doubt Google, owned by the company with the same name. It’s domination amongst search engines such as Yahoo! or Bing rears its head as the public began to reference searching on the internet as ‘to Google’ in the late 2000s. Google has managed to keep the trademark legally protected despite many using the word Google as a verb.
‘When was the last time you hoovered the carpet?’ The cleaning machine was originally produced by the Hoover Company in the United States, however the product gained significant popularity in the United Kingdom and as a result vacuum cleaners have come to be recognised by the word Hoover. Companies such as Dyson have since enjoyed success in the sales of vacuum cleaners under name brands unrelated to Hoover, however it remains that the general public consistently refers to vacuum cleaners as such.
Kleenex, or a facial tissue? The sanitary product was introduced in the 1920s by Kimberley-Clark and was first and foremost marketed as a face tissue, and later, a right replacement for handkerchieves. Today, ‘Pass the Kleenex’ references facial tissues in general, rather than the product of the brand itself!
The success of Adobe Systems in its photo-editing software invention unfortunately spells trouble for the computer software company as they struggle to fight against the genericide of the word Photoshop. The use of the term ‘to Photoshop’ interchangably as ‘to edit’ or ‘to digitally alter’ meant that Adobe is at risk of losing Photoshop as a legal trademark. The company has since published a manual to help consumers understand how and how not to use the term Photoshop, online and in real-life.
Unlike many other trademarks in this list, Thermos has not been able to hold on to its name as a trademark as it has been legally declared to have lost the right in 1963. However, Thermos LLC has been able to use the trademark still, under the circumstances that the first letter of the word remains capitalised. The product, a vacuum insulated flask, was invented by Cambridge University graduate James Dewar and was originally used for scientific purposes.
What is now used to describe petroleum jelly is in actuality a trademarked named by British company Unilever. The success of the product meant that Vaseline transitioned from a trademark to a noun. Companies producing petroleum based lubricant may not legally name their products as Vaseline, but the fact does not stop consumers from referring to those products as such.
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