In General

Of Trademarks and Genericides

Next time, never use sentence like. “I googled him”. There’s a good chance you might get a letter from Google’s legal department.

This has to be a good enough proof that when cool companies get big they behave just like the other jerks. When I learnt that Google’s legal eagles have been sending out caution notices to many journos asking them not to use google as a verb, I shook my head tch-tching.

Isn’t it every company’s dream to see their product name turn into a verb or noun? I mean, just look at the examples in our everyday lives. I have always asked for a ‘frisbee’ at toy stores and never a “plastic throwing disc”. Isn’t that a big plus for Frisbee Inc? Even now, everybody says, “please Xerox this”, when they actually mean, “please photocopy this”. Huge plus for Xerox, right?

Apparently, Not.

And that’s because of Genericide. You heard of Genericide, right? No? Then, you should. It’s when a particular brand name becomes so commonplace then it becomes a common usage. Yes, note the key word here..’common’. This means, other companies can start using the name.

(pic from a Univ of Nevada, Texas course)

The classic case is with ‘Walkman’, Sony’s path-breaking portable cassette players. The brand became so famous that its become a noun. Ever heard anyone go into a electronic shop and ask for a ‘Videocon Portable Music Player’? Never. People would almost always enquire for a ‘Videocon walkman’ or a ‘Sanyo walkman’.

Gerrad puts it very nicely, “Apparently, if you can be shown to be lax in protecting your trademark, then you might lose that trademark the next time you sue someone for infringement. They’ll claim the word has passed into common, generic usage, and they’ll win because your lack of action amounts to your acceptance of that.”

No wonder, Xerox spent millions of dollars a few years ago in print and TV advertisements, educating the public that Xerox does more than just photocopiers. Do you know they are big in Document Management Solutions, Color Printers and Business Consulting Services? There’s a good chance, you may not know this.

Now, I understand why Google is paranoid in protecting its trademark. This way, as Gerrad puts it, Google can stop Microsoft from running commercials promoting their search engine as “The googling is better over here!”

Update: Apple gets into the act as well.