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What is a Genericized Trademark?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2016
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A genericized trademark is a trademark which has come to be used to describe all similar products, rather than the product of a specific manufacturer. Some well known examples of genericized trademarks include kleenex, kotex, xerox, aspirin, heroin, crock pot, hoover, scotch tape, and rolodex. All of these names are used generically to describe particular products, despite the fact that they were once trademarked, and in some cases still are trademarked. By law, if a company does not take action to protect a product from genericization, it may lose its trademark.

The process through which a trademark becomes generic is sometimes called “trademark dilution” or “genericide.” Most companies want to avoid this, as it weakens the power of their product in the market. For example, because the term “band-aid” has become generic, the company which makes Band-Aid brand bandages may lose customers to other companies which use the company's trademark. A genericized trademark can kill a company's profits if it is not dealt with.

There are several ways in which a genericized trademark can happen. Commonly, a company captures the market for the product, as was the case with Xerox Corporation, which dominated the copier industry from the start, leading many people to buy Xerox products. Companies can also accidentally weaken their products through viral marketing or poorly worded advertising, allowing other companies to take advantage of their widespread marketing campaigns to promote their own products.

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When a company senses a genericized trademark on the horizon, it can take steps to protect it. For example, many companies use what is known as a generic descriptor, a clarifying phrase which defines a product when used in combination with the trademark, clearly differentiating the trademark and the product. For example, one might hear about Kleenex tissues, or Hoover vacuums. Some companies also insert the word “brand” into their advertising, emphasizing the trademark, as in the case with LEGO brand blocks or Jell-O brand gelatin.

One interesting case of protection from genericization has occurred in the European Union, where many products enjoy what is called a Protected Designation of Origin. This means that only products made in a certain way in a particular region can be labeled as things like Parmesan, Champagne, or Prosciutto. This process is designed to protect traditional ways of making food, and to increase consumer confidence in popular products by ensuring a basic quality standard. In this case, the attempt to avoid a genericized trademark is designed to protect a traditional process, rather than a company's profits, although companies within these regions certainly do profit.

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