Genericide

The term “Trampoline” provides another instructive example of genericide in trademark law, where a brand name becomes the generic term for a type of product due to its unique functionality and widespread usage, rather than solely because of commercial success.

Trademark Policing

The trampoline, a device consisting of a piece of taut, strong fabric stretched over a steel frame using many coiled springs, was invented in the 1930s by George Nissen and Larry Griswold. Nissen originally called his invention the “bouncing rig” but later changed the name to “trampoline,” inspired by the Spanish word “trampolín,” meaning a diving board.

Nissen registered the trademark “Trampoline” and initially had success in protecting this trademark. His company, the Griswold-Nissen Trampoline & Tumbling Company, promoted the Trampoline as a new and exciting piece of gymnastic and recreational equipment. It quickly gained popularity, particularly in the world of sports, fitness, and entertainment.

However, as the product became more popular and other manufacturers began producing similar equipment, the term “trampoline” started to be used generically. People began referring to any similar bouncing device as a trampoline, regardless of its manufacturer. This widespread use of the term in a generic manner gradually led to the dilution of its association with Nissen’s original product.

The pivotal moment came when the courts ruled that “Trampoline” had become a generic term. This decision was based on the argument that the term was being widely used to describe any bouncing platform, not just those made by Nissen’s company. Thus, the exclusive trademark rights to the term “Trampoline” were lost, and it became a generic term used to refer to all similar equipment.

The case of “Trampoline” highlights the importance of policing your trademark and trademark management, especially for products that are pioneers in their field. When a new and innovative product is introduced, the brand name can often become synonymous with the product itself, leading to a higher risk of genericization.

This example also underlines the challenges in maintaining a trademark for a product whose name is inherently descriptive or functional. The more a name describes the product’s function, the more likely it is to become generic.

In response to such challenges, companies are now more proactive in creating distinctive brand names and engaging in marketing campaigns to emphasize the brand’s association with the product. They also police their trademarks and often enforce their rights more rigorously to prevent generic use.

The story of the “Trampoline” offers a nuanced view of genericide in the trademark world. It showcases the journey of a brand name from a proprietary identifier to a common term, highlighting the need for strategic branding and proactive trademark management in safeguarding a product’s unique identity in the marketplace.

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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