A trademark distinguishes the goods and services of one seller from that of another. A trademark exclusively identifies a product as belonging to a specific company and recognizes the company’s ownership of the brand. It serves as an identity for the product and can be extremely helpful in generating revenue for a firm.
Even the strongest trademarks can lose their protection as a result of genericide. Genericised trademarks are trademarks which are used as the colloquial description of the product as a result of its widespread use. Trademark genericide happens when a company loses the rights over its trademark when the term enters common usage and consumers begin to use it to denote a product than its source. In other words, a trademark falls prey to genericide when it is becomes the descriptive name of the product. Trademark genericide means that people identify the trademark as a class of products and not as a source of origin of a particular product.
When a trademark of a company becomes generic, the company loses its exclusivity over the trademark. This means other companies and competitors are free to use a genericised trademark. The trademark loses is legal protection and the owner cannot take action for unauthorised use.
Genericide of trademark can be attributed to several reasons. The trademark may be used for a product which is first of a kind in the market and enjoys monopoly. In such situations, the trademark might be used synonymously with the common descriptive name of the product.
The lack of a suitable alternative term for the product may also lead to trademark genericide. For example, the term ‘Escalator’, which was previously trademarked by Otis Elevator Company in relation to moving staircases, was catchier than the common descriptive name of the product and hence used in its place.
Genericide may also be attributed to unskilled advertising. Brands often use their trademarks descriptively in an attempt to market their product. Escalator, for example, was used generically by the company itself.
Some very well-known products are trademarks that have been victims of genericide. Aspirin, for example was trademarked by Bayer AG inn 1917 but lost its trademark registration in 1919 due to genericide. The word is now used generically. The term Cellophane was trademarked in 1912 by Jacques E. Branden Berger. The term was used to describe transparent wrapping material made from viscose, the class of product for which the term was trademarked. It ultimately lost its trademark protection in the United States.
Companies are becoming victims of their own success. Presently, brands like Bubble Wrap, Chapstick, Frisbee and Jacuzzi among others are on the verge of trademark genericide. Google, the most valuable trademark in the world, also faces trademark genericide. People have started using the phrase “Google it” while referring to searching something.
Brands should avoid using their trademarks as verbs or nouns. Trademarks must always be used as an adjective. It is also advisable to give the product a generic name in addition to a fanciful trademark. For example, using the phrase “a Ferrari car” instead of “a Ferrari”.
The trademark of the brand must always be used as an adjective followed with the generic name for the product. For example, “Apple computers”, “Kleenex branded tissue”.
In addition to this, brands should prepare guidelines for the use of the trademark. Adobe, for instance, has extensive guideline that prohibit the use of the word “Photoshop” as a synonym for the product. Brand such as Google have also developed usage guidelines to prevent genericide.
Expansion of the business is another technique which can be used by brands to protect their trademark. The trademark Band-aid, for example, was created solely for the purpose of adhesive bandages. When the trademark started becoming generic, Johnson and Johnson launched foot care products and germ-killing drugs using the same trademark to prevent genericide. It must also to noted that when a trademark becomes generic for a particular class of goods, it may still be distinctive when use for other classes of goods.
Using a trademark for a line of products as opposed to a particular product also helps in preventing genericide in some cases.
Brands must always be vigilant and employ measures t o check wrongful use of their trademark. Proactive trademark protection also goes a long way in preventing a trademark from becoming generic.
Lastly, as much as possible, brands should work on educating the consumers that their trademark is the source of the product and not the product itself. Xerox, for example that launched several ad campaigns in this regard.
None of the aforementioned techniques guarantee protection of trademark from genericide in all cases. Whether the public at large can be prohibited to use a trademark as a colloquial description of the product remains unknown. Every brand wants its product to be well known. However, no brand wants its trademark to be a victim of genericide. Hence, it is always advisable to take precautionary measure as and when necessary to protect your trademark.