July 10, 2014

When Trademarks Become Generic

This post was written by: Aston Bond Law Firm

Escalator Image


As any business will know, when creating a brand the ultimate hope is that the product will become a household name. Occasionally, however, the name can prove to be too popular, and becomes synonymous with the actual product. This can lead to companies losing the legal right to the name of their product, and for their product name being used to describe other products that fall within the same category. Understandably if a company has spent a considerable amount of time, money and effort building a strong, reliable brand for their product, the last thing they need is for other products to be marketed on the back of their advertising. Here are some generic terms that it might surprise you to learn were once trademarked:


Escalators were created by Charles Seeberger in 1900, but the trademark name rights were sold to the Otis Elevator Company a few years later. Otis lost their right to the trademark in 1950 in a well publicised case (Haughton Elevator Co v Seeberger) because they had used the term in a generic manner in their own advertising – thus allowing other companies to also use it in a generic manner when referring to a ‘moving stairway’.


The Hoover started off as a simple vacuum cleaner, manufactured by the Hoover Company. Over time, it has become a generalised term used, particularly in the United Kingdom, for any type of vacuum cleaner, regardless of the manufacturer. It has even made its way into the Oxford Dictionary as a verb for vacuuming.


German company Bayer AG released a drug called Asprin in the late 1800’s. Unfortunately, under war reparations as specified in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, asprin ceased to be a registered trademark in the UK, USA, Russia and France. Now it is used as a generic term to describe the actual drug rather than the product (which continues to be described as Asprin with a capital A).


Amarjit Atwal, Litigation Paralegal