The following is an edited podcast transcript. Listen here.
You probably already know that Xerox and Kleenex are registered trademarks even though people frequently joke about how generic those terms are. Generic in that they’re used by many people to talk about a whole category of products and not just a specific brand of product. So when someone says, “Can you pass the Kleenex?” And they’re not really paying attention to what brand it is and they’re just using Kleenex as a substitute for tissue, they’re using the word Kleenex in a generic manner.
Of course, brands work hard to try to avoid becoming generic and it’s been, as far as I’m aware, a long time since a famous brand has actually legally been declared generic and no longer protectable. One famous example was that aspirin was a registered trademark originally and now of course aspirin is a generic term and there are several different brands of aspirin that you can find at your local pharmacy or drug store.
So I want to tell you about some other marks today that might astonish you to learn are registered trademarks and are not generic.
- Popsicle® is a registered trademark for a frozen treat. Can you believe that?
- Windbreaker® is a registered trademark for outerwear?
- Chapstick® is a registered trademark for, the generic term would be lip balm.
- Velcro® is a registered trademark for adhesive materials. There’s actually a great video online that Velcro employees and attorneys made about Velcro the brand name and helping educate people that it’s not a generic term.
- Onesie® is a registered trademark for infant wear.
- Crock-Pot® is a registered trademark for a cooking appliance.
- Frisbee® is a registered trademark, as are Ping Pong® and Hula Hoop®. Three of the most common toys that you could find at a playground on any summer day for many decades and are used generically by so many children are actually registered trademarks.
- Another interesting one, Bubble Wrap® is a registered trademark for cushioning packaging material which contains entrapped bubbles of air or other gases.
Every time I see this list I’m astonished even though I know that all of those things are registered, it still astonishes me!
The important lesson from this for brand owners is to work to avoid their brands being used generically. If you look at a box of Kleenex® and you look at the Kleenex® name on that box, you will actually see that in very small writing next to or under the Kleenex® it says “brand tissue” and they use the registered trademark symbol. So they do make an effort to let people know that Kleenex® is not the product. A tissue is a product and a Kleenex is the brand. Starbucks does this with Frappuccinos® – on the menu at Starbucks it says something like a “Frappucino® blended frozen treat”.
Of course for many brands this is not really an issue, but it is always valuable to make sure that your trademark is used as an adjective and not as a noun. So for example, Kleenex® tissues or Nike® running shoes are using the trademark as an adjective to modify the generic term for the category of products and you can do that as well when you’re writing about and talking about your brand and your trademark.
Another valuable tool to help prevent your trademark from approaching any type of genericness is to make sure that when you use it, you use the proper symbols, the R with the circle – ® – if it’s registered, and then you use it in a manner that stands out from other text. So you could use it in all caps or in bold or italics or a different color so that it is clear when we’re talking about the brand name, that it stands apart and it is special.
So make sure that your brand doesn’t become like aspirin and that it stays strong and protected and registered and doesn’t become generic. If you want to discuss how your trademark is being used and whether there are steps you can take to make sure that it doesn’t become generic or to help strengthen your brand and your trademark, feel free to reach out to me.