Trademark Genericide: A Slippery Slope Between Fame and Abandonment

Genericide refers to a trademark currently benefitting from federal protection falling into common usage; when a customer sees the mark, it no longer identifies the brand. Put another way, genericide happens when a term goes from identifying a source of goods to now describing a category of goods. 

What is trademark genericide?

Certain words we now consider daily vocabulary were developed as trademarks. In certain parts of the country, for example, people may call a soft drink a “Coke” or a tissue a “Kleenex.” Terms like aspirin, cellophane, escalator, heroin, and linoleum, while once referring to a particular brand, are now generic words reflecting a category of good or service.

Why is trademark genericide bad?

While more recognition may seem better for company branding, too much so, and it can instead outgrow the constraints of traditional trademark protection, creating the issue known as genericide. Since the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) does not register generic terms, genericide can end IP protection of a company’s brand. 

The USPTO considers genericide trademark abandonment and takes away the owner’s exclusive rights, causing owners to forego their protections against trademark infringement. The USPTO takes such extreme measures because it is the owner’s responsibility—not the USPTO’s—to prevent genericide.

The consequences of genericide are devastating:
– Competitors can use your mark to promote their products or services
– Your brand loses distinctiveness and value, making advertising harder
– You lose sales

How can a company protect against trademark genericide?  

Trademarks function to distinguish a good rather than to describe a good. Part of distinguishing is to ensure consistency in the presentation of the mark in print and electronically. There are many steps that companies can take to prevent genericide when forming the trademark, including:

– Not using a trademark as a verb (for example, XEROX this)
– Not using a trademark as a noun, but as an adjective followed by a noun
– Not using a trademark in possessive form
– Not using a trademark in the plural form

After the trademark is registered, additional steps companies can take to prevent genericide are:

– Provide public notice
– Do not abbreviate the brand
– Monitor licences
– Fight against infringement
– Quickly respond when a competitor uses the brand generically

While companies want the benefit of extensive consumer awareness of a brand, they must remain aware of competitors who may generically use their mark. To prevent genericide from occurring, clearly distinguish a trademark from competitors and other terms that may be in a consumer’s mind. 

If you need trademark counseling, including advice regarding how to prevent genericide, contact us to learn out how we can help.

Griffith Barbee PLLC

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