Genericide!

shredded_wheat_psA trademark can lose its distinctiveness if it comes to be used as a synonym for the product itself, and no longer serves as an indicator of the origin (maker) of the product. When this happens,  trademark protection is said to be lost through “genericide.”

Genericide can be a major disaster for a company that has invested many thousands of dollars registering and enforcing a trademark.

Some famous trademarks that have fallen victim to genericide include:

Ale House
Aspirin (in the U.S.)
Catseye
Cellophane (in the U.S.)
Escalator
Flit gun
Gramophone
Heroin
Kerosene
Lanolin
Laundromat
Linoleum
Mimeograph
Murphy Bed
Netbook
Pina Colada
Shredded Wheat
Thermos
Trampoline
TV Dinner
Walkman (in Austria)
Zipper

Some trademarks that are at risk (or have recently been at risk) of genericide include:

Adrenaline
AstroTurf
Band-Aid
Bubble Wrap
Bubbler (thanks to Wisconsinites)
Coke (thanks to Southerners)
Crockpot
Dumpster
Fiberglass
Formica
Frisbee
Google (recently survived challenge)
Gu (runners understand)
Hoover
Hula hoop
Jacuzzi
Jell-O
Jet Ski
Kitty Litter
Kleenex
Kool-Aid
Lava lamp
Mace
Memory stick
Muzak
Onesies
Photoshop
Ping Pong
Plexiglass
Popsicle
Putt-Putt Golf
Q-Tips
Realtor
Rollerblade
Saran Wrap
Scotch Tape
Sharpie
Skype
Speedo
Stetson
Styrofoam
Super Glue
Super Hero
Swiss Army Knife
Tarmac
Taser
Teflon
Tiffany
Tupperware
Vaseline
Velcro
Xerox
Zamboni

(These are not exhaustive lists.)

There are a number of steps you can take to help prevent genericide. For example, it is a good idea to always use your trademark as an adjective, never as a noun or a verb. (Say “Kleenex brand tissues are the best,” not “Kleenexes are best.” ) Some companies include anti-genericide provisions in their license agreements. For more ideas about what you can do to protect your brands, consult a trademark attorney.

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