Genericide in trademark law doesn’t always stem from widespread success. Sometimes, it’s a result of the product’s unique functionality becoming standard in the industry, as seen in the case of the “Murphy Bed.”

Trademark Policing

The Murphy Bed, named after its inventor William L. Murphy, was a revolutionary invention in the early 20th century. It’s a bed that folds up into a wall or a closet, thereby saving space. This invention was particularly useful in small apartments and studios. Murphy patented his design and registered a trademark for the name “Murphy Bed,” hoping to capitalize on this novel space-saving solution.

However, the functionality of the Murphy Bed was so unique and appealing that it didn’t take long for other manufacturers to create similar designs. Regardless of the manufacturer, these fold-up beds started being commonly referred to as “Murphy Beds.” This was partly because no other term succinctly described this type of bed. The term “Murphy Bed” filled that linguistic void, even when describing beds not produced by Murphy’s company.

As other companies began producing similar space-saving beds, the term “Murphy Bed” was increasingly used in a generic sense. The Murphy Bed Company tried to retain its trademark rights, arguing that the term should only refer to beds produced by them. However, in a legal battle, the court ruled that “Murphy Bed” had become a generic term due to its widespread use to describe any wall bed, regardless of its manufacturer.

This case is a clear example of genericide occurring not necessarily due to the widespread success of a product, but because of the product’s unique functionality that filled a specific need in the market. When a product is the first of its kind, and its name becomes synonymous with the function it performs, there’s a high risk of the name becoming generic.

The Murphy Bed story emphasizes the importance of brand differentiation and the challenges faced in protecting a trademark when a product is pioneering in its field. It also highlights the role of language in shaping trademark law; when no alternative term exists to describe a new product, the brand name can quickly become generic.

In response to such challenges, companies now often focus on creating a distinctive brand identity beyond just the product name. They may also seek to register a trademark, not just the name, but also distinctive features of the product design, to prevent competitors from replicating their success too closely.

The story of the Murphy Bed is an insightful example of genericide in trademarks, illustrating that it can occur not only due to widespread success but also because of a product’s unique functionality. It serves as a lesson for businesses on the importance of continuous innovation and proactive trademark management to maintain a competitive edge in the market.
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