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Article Archive >> Featured Topics

What's In A Name?

What's In A Name?
By William L. Bulla

Band Aid, Velcro, Bubble Wrap, TV Dinners, Corn Flakes, Aspirin, iPod, Jell-O, Laundromat, Escalator, Linoleum, Pampers, Roller-blade, Pop Tart, Cellophane are just a few of the many trademark brand names that we use generically today.
This happens when a brand name becomes so dominant that it's the first thing people think about when they are shopping for the type of product the brand represents.
This situation is disturbing to the companies that own these trademarks. If the brand name becomes the generic description for a specific type of product, instead of just the specific product created by the trademark holder, the property rights of the trademark holder may be lost. This has already happened to some of those trademark names I mentioned above.
The American Linoleum Manufacturing Company, the first linoleum manufacturer in the U.S., opened on Staten Island in 1872. It was followed shortly thereafter by the American Nairn Linoleum Company by Sir Michael Nairn. The American Linoleum Manufacturing Company brought a trademark infringement suit against Nairn for the use of the name Linoleum. However, the term had not been trademarked, and the term had been so widely used that it had become generic only 14 years after its invention. Linoleum is considered the first product name to become a generic term.
This happened to the Otis Elevator Company in 1950, when the US Patent Office ruled that the word "escalator'" had just become a common descriptive term for moving stairways.
The B.F. Goodrich Company coined the word Zipper in 1923, for the line of rubber overshoes. The name referred to the speed with which the new overshoes could be fastened or unfastened. The name became associated with the fastener itself, and eventually acquired generic status.
The Bayer Company lost the brand name for Aspirin shortly after World War II. Now many companies bottle the product under that name.
Another name used generically is "Crock-Pot. This device is a slow cooker, a countertop electrical cooking appliance that maintains a relatively low temperature for many hours, allowing unattended cooking of pot roast, stew, and other dishes. Slow cookers are manufactured by numerous companies, and sold in department stores all over the U.S. Most people call them "Crock-Pot's" regardless of the manufacturer.
In 1923, one of the early popular refrigerators, to replace old-fashioned iceboxes, in a self-contained, porcelain-covered metal cabinet, was the Frigidaire. A great many people started referring to their refrigerator, regardless of brand, as their Frigidaire. Over time this name was shortened to "Fridge", which is still used.
People seem to continue to use brand names to generically describe various products. Photocopying machines are called Xerox. As in, "I'll go to Wal-Mart and get this paper Xeroxed." Or, "I'll drop by the grocery store and pick up a box of Baggies." And we speak of boxed facial tissues as Kleenex, frozen meals as TV Dinners, impregnated soap scouring pads as Brillo Pads, vacuum bottles as Thermos, and adhesive bandages as Band Aids.
Bubble Wrap has been a source of fascination for people of all ages. It is a pliable transparent plastic material commonly used for packaging fragile items. Air-filled bubbles provide cushioning for breakable items. It is a trademark of the Sealed Air Corporation that calls its product a "cushioning material." Some people use the name generically for similar products, often termed air bubble packing or bubble packing. And kids, of all ages, like to pop those little air bubbles.
AstroTurf is a brand name of an artificial turf. Though the name is a registered trademark, it is often used as a generic description of any kind of artificial turf. Frosted Flakes is the name of a breakfast cereal introduced by the Kellogg Company in 1952 as "Sugar Frosted Flakes." The word "Sugar" was dropped from the name in the 1980"s. "Frosted Flakes" by itself, is purely a description of the product. As a result, that term cannot be trademarked and can be used by any company making a similar product. The same holds true for Corn Flakes.
Laundromat is trademarked to Westinghouse Electric Corporation, but people use it for all those shops where they can take their laundry.
Another term often misused is the word "dumpster. "Dumpster is an American brand of trash receptacle. This word was first used in 1936, by the Dempster-Dumpster system of mechanically loading the contents of standardized container onto garbage trucks. Nowadays, it is often used as a generic term for any large trash container.
People refer to "flying discs" as Frisbees; all gelatin desserts are called "Jell-O; Jacuzzi is used incorrectly for most whirlpool baths/hot tubs; Velcro is easier to say than "hook and loop fastener", and all lip balm seems to be called ChapStick. We often speak of "Styrofoam" cups. This is incorrect because there is no such thing as a "Styrofoam" cup. Dow Chemical Company owns the trademark and has not released it for use in coffee cups. Generically, we call all polystyrene foam "Styrofoam" however, they are two different products.
Over recent years some new products have quickly picked generic use. One such is iPod, an Apple trademark for a portable digital music player. Now there are many other brands available, but most people speak of them generically as iPods.
If we have a question about any subject, product or seeking any type of information we are advised to "Google" it on our computer. There are many search engines available on the Internet, but the term "Google" has become generic.
I have only covered a few of the enormous number of brand names that are being used in a generic manner in the world today. There are others such as Cellophane, Trampoline, Plexiglas, Rollerblade, Magic Marker Sheetrock, Walkman, Dry Ice, Pampers and Nintendo to mention a few.

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