A notable example of genericide in trademark law, where the transition of a brand name to a generic term is not directly linked to the product’s widespread commercial success, is the story of “Laundromat.”

Trademark Policing

“Laundromat” was originally a trademarked term used to refer to a self-service laundry establishment. The term was coined and registered by Westinghouse Electric Corporation in the 1940s. It combined the words “laundry” and “automat” (automatic), encapsulating the novel concept of a fully automated laundry facility.

Initially, the term “Laundromat” specifically referred to Westinghouse’s line of automated laundry equipment. However, as self-service laundry facilities became more popular and widespread, the term started being used generically. People began to refer to any coin-operated laundry establishment as a “Laundromat,” regardless of the brand or company operating it.

This widespread use of the term in a generic sense gradually eroded its association with Westinghouse. Eventually, “Laundromat” lost its trademark protection and became a generic term for any self-service laundry operation. This shift was largely due to the term’s descriptiveness and its adoption by the public as the default term for this type of service.

The case of “Laundromat” is particularly interesting because it underscores the impact of language and consumer habits on trademarks. Unlike brands that became victims of their own commercial success, Laundromat’s transition to a generic term was more about the public’s adoption of the most convenient term to describe a new and burgeoning service.

It also highlights companies’ challenges in protecting a trademark that succinctly and effectively describes the product or service offered. When a brand name is inherently descriptive of the product or service, it is more likely to become generic.

In response to such risks, companies today are more vigilant about protecting and policing their trademarks. They engage in educational campaigns to reinforce the association between the brand and the company and take legal steps to prevent the misuse or generic use of their trademarks.

The story of “Laundromat” offers a unique perspective on the concept of genericide in trademark law. It exemplifies how a brand name can transition into a generic term not merely due to its market dominance but because of its adoption by the public as the most straightforward descriptor for a new type of service. This case serves as a reminder of the complexities involved in maintaining a trademark’s distinctiveness and the importance of proactive trademark management.
Michael Jones Michael Jones is the founder and managing member of Jones Intellectual Property, whose mission is to provide his clients with personalized, effective legal solutions. Michael has focused on creating, protecting, and advocating for his clients’ intellectual property rights throughout his career. View Bio