Tuesday, February 03, 2009

This is why I don't believe in most forms of "genericide"

These days, consumer understanding of branding allows Google, Kleenex and Xerox to preserve their marks while also being conversational terms for their categories. The following quote from an article on stadium naming rights is crazy talk from black-letter trademark law's perspective, but that's because the black-letter law doesn't reflect current reality:
The greatest desire of any marketer is for her product's name to work its way into conversations. When I was growing up, it was common to say, "I want a Coke" when you were referring to any kind of soda. People ask for a Kleenex when they mean a tissue, say they're going to Xerox a document even if they're using a Ricoh copier, and speak of Googling when they refer to an Internet search. Stadium naming rights can help products and brands gain that sort of status.


  1. Rebecca -

    I agree with you that the doctrine sticks to rigidly to a binary trademark/generic term distinction, when in fact we can think of lots of examples in which consumers use a term in what looks like a generic sense but still understand a trademark significance. But that doesn't mean terms don't actually become generic, right? It seems to me that the problem is that we have a harder time coming up with reliable tools to determine when a word has become generic than we do understanding, conceptually, that it happens.

  2. Maybe the answer is a Teflon survey, modified by asking consumers what the generic term for the trademarked example is--as long as they can produce "search engine" and the like, no genericism. This would at least work for terms that are arbitrary/fanciful, though you might want a different test for terms that are born generic, recognizing that there might be multiple generic names for the same thing. I also think fame is a big part of it: there's a difference between "owning your category" and "being so obscure that people can't tell whether a term is brand or generic." I discussed an example of this problem a while ago with Kamut.