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What is a generic trademark?

What Is a Generic Trademark?

Almost everyone has heard of trademarks, even if we don’t know the exact dictionary meaning. Even if you’re not a "Swiftie," you may have heard of Taylor Swift getting her fandom name trademarked — in addition to countless other words and phrases.

Trademarks are basically names, phrases, or logos registered by a company or entity, so they can use it to represent themselves, their product, or their brand.

We’re sure we all know what generic means as well. They’re essentially the basic, common, no-brand counterpart to the official representative words, names, or symbols that is a trademark. In short, generic words are the everyday terms we use on a day-to-day basis.

What do you get when you combine these two opposites together?

You get a generic trademark — and a new group of terms added to the general public’s vocabulary.

In this article, we discuss what exactly generic trademarks are, what they can mean for your business, and how you can prevent them from happening.

What Is a Generic Trademark?

A generic trademark is simply a trademarked word or phrase that has been demoted into a common or generic term.

Since trademarks are often used to specify a brand product or service, losing their trademark is equivalent to the term losing what makes it unique or special. Instead of referring to one specific product from one brand, the term becomes generic — in other words, it’s used to refer to other products of the same type.

Instead of one particular product or service, the public thinks of the type of product in general when they hear the generic trademark. Generic trademarks are like the general “brand” for a group of products or services.

Popular Examples of Generic Trademarks

A lot of formerly trademarked terms are now used to refer to products in a broad or general sense. Take the word “escalator,” for example.

Did you know that escalator used to be a trademarked name? Its last trademark owner was the Otis Elevator Company. The word was trademarked by Charles Seeberger, who is alleged to have combined scala, the Latin for “stairs,” with the word “elevator.”

The name became so popular that instead of being used to refer to the Otis Elevator Company’s electronic stairs specifically, it’s become synonymous with the product in general — even those manufactured by other brands.

Below are other examples of former trademarks that are now generic terms:

  • Aspirin: Last trademarked by Bayer AG, the word originally referred to a specific drug but is now used for painkillers in general.

  • Heroin: Last trademarked by Bayer AG, the name is now used to refer to a type of illegal drug in general.

  • Granola: Last trademarked by Kellog’s, the name was made up by James Caleb Jackson, who is also usually honored as the inventor of dry cereal.