Genericide

The phenomenon of genericide in trademark law, where a brand name becomes a common term for a type of product, is well-illustrated by the term “Zipper.” Once a trademarked name, “Zipper” has become the generic term for a common fastening device, demonstrating how a brand can become a victim of its own success.

Trademark Policing

The zipper, an interlocking toothed fastening device, was originally invented in the late 19th century. However, it was the B.F. Goodrich Company in the early 20th century that coined the term “Zipper.” They used it for the fastening on a new type of rubber boots and subsequently trademarked the name.

Initially, the term “Zipper” was associated with Goodrich’s products. Over time, however, as the fastening device became more popular and widely used in a variety of products like clothing, luggage, and sporting goods, the term began to be used generically. People started referring to all similar fastening devices as zippers, regardless of their manufacturer.

This widespread generic use of the term led to its dilution as a proprietary trademark. Eventually, “Zipper” lost its trademark protection and became a generic term in the public domain. This meant that any company could use the word “Zipper” to describe their fastening devices without infringing on trademark rights.

The transition of “Zipper” from a trademark to a generic term exemplifies the challenges faced by brands in maintaining their proprietary rights. It highlights the importance of active trademark management, where companies must continuously police, monitor, and enforce the use of their brand names to prevent them from becoming generic.

Moreover, the case of Zipper underscores the dynamic nature of language and consumer behavior. As a product becomes ubiquitous, its brand name can often enter everyday language as a generic term. This transition can be beneficial in terms of brand recognition but detrimental in terms of legal trademark protection.

In response to such challenges, companies now often engage in campaigns to educate the public and industry about proper trademark usage. Such companies emphasize that certain terms are brand names and should not be used generically. This strategy is part of broader efforts to prevent their trademarks from falling into generic use, as happened with Zipper.

The story of “Zipper” is a significant example of genericide in the field of trademark law. It serves as a cautionary tale about the balance between a brand’s popularity and the preservation of its trademark status. For businesses, it highlights the need for vigilant policing of the brand and trademark management to maintain the distinctiveness and legal protection of their brand names in a competitive 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