Why Companies Don't Like You to Google and Xerox Things

Some products are so successful in the marketplace that their trademark is widely used as the generic name for all products of that type. Google is the most common of these. People often talk about "googling" things or say "let me google that for you". There are many others: Xerox has become a synonym for photocopy, Hoover for vacuum cleaning, Jet Ski for acquatic motorcycles, Frisbee for flying disks or Jeep for compact sport utility vehicles.

Outsiders often see this as a sign of success and wonder why the companies who own these trademarks are apparently unhappy about the situation and try to discourage the use of their trademarks as generic names. There is a good reason for this. In the US and some other jurisdictions you can lose your rights to a trademark if it becomes generic and if the owner has not made sufficient effort to stop this.

This is not paranoia. Many famous trademarks have been lost by their owners precisely for this reason. Aspirin used to be a registered trademark of Bayer but it was successfully challenged in the USA where it is now generic. The Otis elevator company registered "escalator" as a trademark but they failed to protect it and it too became generic. The same happened to cellophane, thermos, dry ice, heroin and even videotape -- originally a trademark of the company that invented videotaping, Ampex.

You can't stop consumers using "google" as a verb but what trademark owners can do is to ensure that they always use trademarks correctly in their own publications. Look carefully at everything published by companies and you will rarely find a trademark used as a common noun. Instead of "escalator" nowadays the company would write "Escalator brand moving staircase". It is precisely because Otis used escalator like elevator that they lost it. Most companies also try to educate media and publishers so that they also use the trademarks correctly.

No company can require you to say "escalator brand moving staircase" in conversation, nor can they require publications to do the same. What they can do is to create brand awareness campaigns so that they can demonstrate their efforts to protect the mark. If anyone ever challenges a trademark in court these efforts will be very important to prove that the owner of the trademark made every effort to avoid it being used as a generic name.

In spite of the downside risks many companies are actually thrilled when their brand becomes the generic name for a product. They just have to make sure that they do everything they can to protect the mark by training their own staff and by trying to convince media to use the name appropriately. And that explains why part of your training at many companies is about how you should use the company trademarks. They just want to avoid adding their name to the already long list of genericized trademarks.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics you can reach me through my website http://andrewhennigan.com, by email at conseil@andrewhennigan.com or by phone at 0046 730 894 475 in Sweden and 0033 6 79 61 42 81 in France.


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