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How To Avoid A Generic Trademark

Avoid a Generic Trademark: Don’t Be Like Band-Aids

Joanne Mafunda Moyo

Joanne Mafunda Moyo

19 July 20234 min read

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How to avoid a generic Trademark

Use it right or lose it. That’s the motto that every trademark owner needs to follow to avoid genericide. But what is a generic trademark, and how do you make sure that your business’ trademark remains distinctive and valuable? 

Let’s start by exploring how to avoid a generic trademark, beginning with some examples:

Examples of diluted (generic) marks

Picture your local laundromat—the place where people associate washing and drying their clothes daily. At one point, the phrase “laundromat” was a unique word, trademarked by Westinghouse in the U.S. in the 1940s for automatic washing machines and in the 1950s for coin laundry. 

Another notable example includes Band-Aid. The trademark was initially owned by Johnson & Johnson. Aspirin is another one. The aspirin trademark belonged to Bayer Chemical Company and fell victim to dilution at the hands of a competitor who started selling their own version of painkillers as aspirin.

Today these words have lost their value as distinctive words associated with their brands. But how did this happen?

How generic trademarks occur 

Consumers started using the word laundromat to refer to all the businesses operating as automatic washing machines and coin laundry companies. This process of when a brand name replaces the product’s actual name and becomes a familiar term used in daily conversation is called genericide.

Trademark protection best practices

So, how do you protect your brand from becoming generic? We’ve got a few tips that should be part of your trademark protection best practice:

Guard your trademark usage 

Start by guarding your trademark usage by following these two tips:

Use your trademarks as an adjective, not as a noun.

Your trademark should be used as an adjective that modifies a generic word; a few examples include:

A good test to see if you have it right is whether the sentence makes sense when you delete your trademark from the sentence. 

This simple yet powerful rule will help you protect your trademark.

Never use your mark as a verb.

Your trademark should also not be used as a verb, for example:

  • Make six copies on the XEROX copier, NOT XEROX, this report.
  • Search on Google, NOT Google it.

Remember to use your trademark consistently on your products, online, and in advertising. You should include the same spelling, punctuation, and spacing every time you use your trademark.

Create clear brand guidelines

It’s essential to send a clear, consistent message to your customers and anyone using your trademark. You need to create a clear set of brand guidelines that govern how your trademark should be used in advertising, any marketing campaigns, and licenses.

Create a strong trademark from the start 

A strong trademark is tough to dilute. So make sure that your trademark is strong from the start. 

How do you do this?

  • Use fanciful words- You can use made-up words to associate with your product or service; a great example is “Pepsi” for soda.
  • Use arbitrary marks- You can use words without connection with your product or service; some great examples include “Apple” for computers and “Camel” for cigarettes.
  • Use suggestive marks- Allow your customers to use their imagination in connection to your product and service; a good example is “Tide” for laundry detergent.

How to avoid a generic trademark: take action!

Don’t allow your brand to fall into the public domain. Contact one of our trademark attorneys to help protect your brand. This, paired with the advice we’ve given you today, will set you up for success in the future. 

Want to ensure you select the right mark? Follow our guide on how to choose a good trademark

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