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The Dangers of Being Generic

Oh hey let’s talk generic trademarks (what, is that not what you said to yourself when you woke up this morning?)

We all know that ‘generic’ refers to something that is common and not specific. And when it comes to trademark law, being generic is the very worst.

This is because the whole point of a trademark is to help consumers distinguish one product from another. Trademarks tell you who made the product, what its quality and price point are, and other important things like if it is fair-trade or uses sweatshops.

So trademarks must be distinguishable, not generic. Thusly (sometimes this is just such a fun word), the USPTO won’t register trademarks that are made up of primarily generic words.

And in an unfair twist of fate, oftentimes a completely unique and distinct trademark can become generic if people start using it to refer to any similar products ( think “zipper” or “Xerox” or “Kleenex.”) These were once protectable marks but since they’ve become part of the general vernacular for things like well, zippers, photocopies, or tissues, the marks have become much more challenging if not impossible to protect.

This is why big companies are so careful about how they refer to things.  They don’t call the products Rollerblades or Band-Aids, because they don’t want those word to become synonymous with skates or bandages. Instead, they call their products ‘Rollerblade brand in-line skates’ and ‘Band-Aid brand bandages.’

Lesson learned: 1. don’t be generic in your branding, 2. it’s mega important to protect your mark from cases of infringement even when it may not seem hugely important at the moment.

 

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