Top 6 Companies That Lost Their Trademark

Top 6 Companies That Lost Their Trademark

From bubble wrap to the zipper, these products experienced the downside of being super popular.

Some companies have become so deeply ingrained into our vocabulary that we use their names to refer to the products they sell. Take Google for instance. Do people say, “I’m going to search for XYZ’s meaning on the internet” or do we all just end up saying “I’ll Google it”? The term “Google” as a verb was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in June 2006. This sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it—becoming extremely well known to the public? But in fact, it can be the death of a brand.

When a brand becomes a commonplace noun or verb, as is the case with Google, its trademark loses distinctiveness. This allows other businesses to swoop right in and use the brand name for their own products. This has happened to a lot of businesses across history, here are six of the most popular cases of this happening. 

Bubble wrap 

Not many of us would know that Bubble Wrap used to be the name of a branded product. The product was invented by Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes in 1957. Together, the duo founded the Sealed Air Corp in 1960. They filed for a trademark for the term “bubble wrap” in 1981 but, as we all know, it has since become a generic term. 

Zipper

Yes, the zipper did not start off as a generic term. The zipper was invented by Swedish electric engineer Gideon Sundback in 1983. But the name for the device can be attributed to B. F. Goodrich Company, which decided to use the device in their design for rubber boots. B.F. Goodrich Company registered for the “Zipper” trademark in 1925 but by 1930 the term was so commonly used that it could no longer be protected. 

Aspirin

Before becoming a common term for headache medication, Aspirin used to be a brand name trademarked by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer AG. According to the company, the term “Aspirin” means pain relief, speed, reliability and tolerability. Bayer AG lost the trademark for Aspirin in 1919 as a part of the Treaty of Versailles. 

App store 

Three different companies have applied for a trademark over the term “App Store”. First was a company called Sage Networks which applied for the trademark in 1998, only to give it up in 2000. The second was Salesforce. Salesforce was the first to use the term as we understand it to discuss its idea of a single source for customers to get on-demand applications. Salesforce applied for a trademark for the term in 2006 but ended up dropping its trademark application by 2008. Finally, Apple applied for the trademark in 2008, but it also eventually abandoned the trademark in 2013

Trampoline 

As shocking as it may be the word trampoline used to trademarked. Trampoline was invented in 1934, as a training tool for astronauts and athletes. The term was trademarked by Griswold-Nissen Trampoline & Tumbling Company. It is unclear when the term became generic but the actual name for a generic trampoline used to be “rebound tumbler”

Kerosene

Kerosene is a combustible hydrogen liquid whose trademark was registered by Canadian physician Abraham Gesner in 1854. Initially, only two companies—The North American Gas Light Company and the Downer Company were allowed to call their hydrogen fuel Kerosene. But it eventually became genericized and is now used for any heating fuel. 

Honorable mention: Xerox— an almost lost trademark

The term “Xerox” is commonly used as a synonym for “photocopy” when in fact, it is a trademark. Xerox is the name of the American corporation that first manufactured xerographic plain-paper copiers. The term has been trademarked since 1952, and since then, the Xerox Corporation has tried its best to prevent people from using it as a verb or a noun. They even made an advertising campaign that read, “When you use Xerox the way you use Asprin, we get a headache,” to urge people to stop the term from becoming generic. As of 2022, the company still continues to hold the trademark. 

What do companies need to learn from this?

Businesses need to be aware that there is a dark side to becoming a household name. When your brand name products become so popular that they no longer represent your brand but the action your product performs, you are at risk of losing your trademark. 

To avoid this, you must use your trademark as a trademark. Let’s use Xerox as an example here. So, instead of saying “Get me a Xerox of this page” you should make sure to always say “Get me a Xerox photocopy of this page.” This use of the trademark should also be reflected in all your marketing materials, packaging and internal documents.

Use the registered trademark symbol “®” with the term.  This way the customer will always know that your product is a brand name. So instead of “buy a pack of Kleenex tissue papers”, the marketing copy should say “buy a pack of Kleenex® tissue papers.”

There are businesses out there that actively help brands protect their rights over trademarks. For instance, the British company NetNames represents more than 2,000 companies worldwide

And scours the internet for improper use of the trademarks belonging to its clients. As long as you judiciously use these tips you should be able to ensure that your trademark rests firmly within your hands.

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Header image courtesy of Freepik. 

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