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Generic Trademark

what do you need to know about generic trademarks

When a trademark becomes very popular, so popular that it is used as a common name for any products or services, it means that the mark is about to be genericized and become a generic term. One of the striking examples is the case of aspirin which became generic in the US. Aspirin was originally a trademark owned by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, but it has since become a generic term for acetylsalicylic acid, a common pain reliever and anti-inflammatory medication. The term "aspirin" is now widely used to refer to any medication containing acetylsalicylic acid, regardless of the manufacturer.

If a trademark becomes generic over time, the owner risks losing their trademark status and the protection as trademarks. Once a trademark has become generic, the owner may experience trademark cancellation and lose their exclusive right to use the genericized trademark. A generic trademark is a once-registered trademark which has lost  trademark rights in the country and anyone can use. You can’t commit a trademark infringement when using a genericized trademark (for example, “escalator” was a trademark once. Others examples of once-trademarked terms that have become generic include "thermos" and "zipper"). 

This can happen to any trademark once its name becomes so popular that it is used as a regular word. For example, when you google something on, you are damaging the brand of Google. Google is very vigilant and makes sure that their trademark is used properly and at the moment, there are no chances that it will be declared generic. However, it doesn't mean that this won't happen in the future. The first sign that a trademark is on its way to being genericized is using the mark as a verb.

Do not lose your generic trademark

However, being famous doesn't automatically lead to losing your trademark. For example, Doll Noodles which were created in the late 1960s by Winner Food Products Ltd are still protected. This is because the company has created instant noodles as we know them. Their brand became so excessively famous that their trademark became a synonym for instant noodles, no matter the actual brand. However, the trademark still enjoys the protection as an actual trademark.

Pampers are frequently used as a synonym for diapers in Russia and other CIS countries, irrespective of the actual brand, thanks to the brand's success in Russia in the late 1990s. The eye-catching advertisement imprinted the brand in the mind of a regular consumer, creating a strong association between the product and the brand. Nonetheless, the trademark is not genericized in Russia and is completely protected.

Preserving Trademark Protection

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) plays a crucial role in determining whether a trademark has become generic or not. The USPTO evaluates the distinctiveness and secondary meaning of a brand name to decide if it has lost its trademark protection. If a once-registered trademark is deemed generic, the trademark owner loses their exclusive rights to use the mark to identify their product or service.

It is essential for trademark owners to monitor the use of their brand name to avoid the risk of generic terms becoming used to describe a class of products and prevent genericide. Trademark owners should proactively engage in legal actions against infringers to safeguard their intellectual property rights and prevent brand erosion. Trademark law provides a framework for safeguarding intellectual property and ensuring that registered trademarks retain their value and distinctiveness. By enforcing trademark rights and educating the public on the proper use of their mark, companies can maintain their trademark protection and prevent their brand from becoming a common term.

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