“Can you hoover the living room?” “I wish this hotel had a jacuzzi” and “I’m really sorry, I’ve knocked over your lava lamp” are all things, that, if you’re my fiance, you’ve heard at least once in your life.
But chances are you’ve used the word hoover, often as a verb, countless times. And unless you’ve actually got a Hoover vacuum cleaner in your house you’ve been using it wrong the entire time. Because, ladies and gentlemen, Hoover is a brand name that is trademarked.
And guess what, so are the words Jacuzzi and Lava Lamp. In fact, many words that were once trademarked have, over time, slipped into everyday vocabulary and some have even become genericized. Genericized terms are those that used to be trademarks but have lost their legal status due to becoming generic terms. This happens when the brand name becomes synonymous with the type of product it is, due to popularity.
Some examples of trademarks that have been genericized include: trampoline, videotape, escalator and heroin (just say no, kids).
But there are other terms that have slipped into everyday usage whilst still retaining their trademark. These are terms that are actively enforced by the trademark holder and for which misuse could result in legal action. These include: AstroTurf, Biro, Bubble Wrap, Frisbee and Cashpoint.
Lloyds Bank actually owns the trademark name so technically if you’re going to “nip to the Cashpoint” that’s only true if it’s a Lloyds Bank. Otherwise it’s an ATM or cash machine.
And the company Sealed Air who owns the trademark name Bubble Wrap expect you to refer to other types of the fun, poppy stuff as “inflated cushioning” which is quite frankly, absurd. But I digress…
Now it seems Google is the latest term to have its trademark status up for discussion.
Google has become such a giant that it has reached the point where “googling” something has become synonymous with simply searching online for something, regardless of whether you use Google’s search engine or another.
But isn’t this a good thing? When your brand name becomes a household name, have you not succeeded in your marketing strategy?
Well actually, your brand can become so popular and so overexposed that it actually lessens your brand power. If Kleenex become synonymous with every other tissue product on the market, why would a consumer choose them over any other tissue brand?
And that is where the problem lies. And Google are all too aware of this.
Google hate when their name is used as a verb and actively discourages its use when not explicitly referring to their search engine. Back in 2006, they wrote on their blog:
“You can only “Google” on the Google search engine. If you absolutely must use one of our competitors, please feel free to “search” on Yahoo or any other search engine.”
But not everyone is in agreement.
Last week, Chris Gillespie filed a petition with the US Supreme Court that argued the generic use of “google” is so commonplace that the trademark should be null and void like trampoline and escalator.
His campaign began back in 2012 when he registered 763 domain names containing the world “google” which all redirected to an adult website. A petition by ICANN to enter “google” into the public domain failed and now those domains all belong to Google.
Now, Mr Gillespie is having another crack at it with the US Supreme Court. How successful he’ll be is definitely up for debate.
Is your brand at risk of becoming genericized?
Gaining such exposure that your brand is at risk of becoming genericized is a pretty good problem to have as far as problems go. And it’s estimated that fewer than 5% of brands have become genericized in the US so it’s not something that most brands need to worry about. However, if you’re worried about your brand’s purity, taking action sooner rather than later.
Spot-onbranding.com outline a few ways you can protect your brand:
- Be aware of your trademark rights
- Educate the public and other businesses on appropriate brand and trademark use
- Stop other businesses from using your brand name
- Use a generic term after your trademark to provide a description of the product or service
- Never use your brand name in a generic fashion, whether in publications or in any advertising medium
If you have some budget behind you, you can use NetNames will trawl the internet looking for improper and suspected fraudulent use of trademarks, before eradicating it. Their fees start from £50,000 per year, per client but go up to £200,000.
What do you think about the use of “google?” Should Google give it to the people or are they right to hold onto their name with a vice like grip, lest they go the way of aspirin, escalator and to an extent, Frisbee?