In researching content for our Albany workshop this week, I stumbled across an interesting legal term: a genericised trademark. In a nutshell, this describes an evolution of a trademark to a generic descriptor of a class of product or service – like ‘googling’ instead of ‘searching’ or ‘bandaid’ instead of ‘plaster’.
Legally, this is a very interesting concept. What happens to your trademark when you start owning the generic right to your category? Is this good or bad?
Generally a trademark sits on a scale from ‘distinctive’ to ‘generic’. Once it becomes generic, this opens up a whole new can of legal worms. Competitors can now use the term to describe similar products, and the iconic trademark ownership is lost. In other words, trademark protection can be lost by over-exposure.
Aspirin is a great example. First introduced in 1897, Aspirin was the unique name to describe the product’s chemical make up. Over 100 years later, Aspirin is used to describe all manner of paracetamol or low-level pain relief medication.
Some more surprising examples include:
All of the above were once trademarks, who lost their protection through genericisation.
Google, in fact, have had to negotiate with major dictionary makers as to how ‘Google’ was to be added to their dictionaries. The resolution was: “use the Google search engine to obtain information on the Internet”, which retains the ownership over the term.
While it’s something that many brands strive for, and it really is the ultimate measurement of success, many of the big players still spend big bucks avoiding it.
Tell me your thoughts – is brand genericisation a negative or a positive? Do you ‘Google’ something, even if you use Yahoo?