Genericide: At a Loss for Words

Genericide: At a Loss for Words

If you didn’t know what “genericide” meant, most likely you’d have to google it — and therein lies the rub.  The Supreme Court is considering whether “google” is now too generic a term and, therefore, can no longer be afforded trademark protection.

Ars Technica’s report on this story begins with other examples of genericide: teleprompter, thermos, hoover, aspirin and videotape. Xerox also comes to mind, and while still bearing a trademark, Kleenex may soon join the list too.

In 2012, a man named Chris Gillespie registered 763 domain names that included “google” and a word or phrase. In response, Google filed a cybersquatting complaint, asserting trademark infringement of its brand had occurred. Google won and Gillespie was ordered to forfeit the infringing domain names. Gillespie had his own response: He sued to invalidate the trademark. Per Ars:

“The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the search giant gets to keep its trademark even if the term ‘google’ has become known for searching the Internet. One reason is because Google isn’t just a search engine.”

The panel concluded that while the public may use the term “in a generic and indiscriminate sense,” the usage doesn’t tell the panel the public’s understanding of how the term relates to Internet search engines. In order for “Google” to lose its trademark protection, it would have to become an “exclusive descriptor,” and that competitors would be at a loss without it.

Gillespie has appealed to the Supreme Court to settle the matter.

Ars also reports on yet another term fighting to keep its trademark protection: “Comic-Con.”

The San Diego Comic-Con convention is suing the Salt Lake City Comic Con for using the unhyphenated version of “Comic-Con” and also not paying licensing fees. The Salt Lake City convention’s producers, Dan Farr Productions, have countersued, claiming the term has become too generic. For now, trial is set for Nov. 28, 2017.

Who’s next? Mental Floss published a list a few years ago of once-brand names that are now generic. Surely, this list has already grown and will continue to.

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