One day, my brother and I were playing on the ESCALATOR. I wanted to play FRISBEEi but my brother wanted to practise tricks with his YO-YO instead. He had learnt the tricks from a VIDEOTAPE that mother had bought him last Christmas. I got a lousy WALKMANii instead. Suddenly, I realised that Lucas, the HEROIN addict was right behind us. He had multiple BAND-AIDS on his arm. The ZIPPER on his pants was broken; his pants were held together only with CELLOPHANE tape. He smelled horrible, like a mixture of CLOROXiii and KEROSENE. We were so afraid of him that we ran up the ESCALATOR. In my panic I tripped over the loose LINOLEUM floor covering on the landing and broke the THERMOS I was holding. When I got home my head was hurting so badly my mother gave me an ASPIRIN and sent me straight to bed.
Noticed anything peculiar about the above story? No? Well apart from the exceedingly poor storyline, the bolded words in the above paragraph are all trademarks. However, apart fromCLOROX, FRISBEE and WALKMAN, all of them are no longer given protection in the US as they have become generic and are no longer able to function as an indication of origin.
“If I could rearrange the alphabet, I’d put U and I together”, “You must be a parking ticket; cause you have fine written all over you.” I tried these pick-up lines on my unsuspecting (and highly unfortunate) female colleagues the other day. I never knew eye rolling was a universal genetic trait in women. Like overused clichés and corny pick-up lines, trademarks which are overused may lose their value. The primary function of a trademark is to tell the consumers who is responsible for which products/services. When a trademark is repeatedly used as a noun by the public, the public will soon associate the word to a specific product instead of seeing it as a trademark of a particular company. For instance, the word “Yo-Yo” was a registered trademark of DUNCAN, INC in the US, however, in 1965 the trademark “Yo-Yo” was declared invalid by the US Court of Appeal as the word Yo-Yo had become a generic term for the toy. Consequently, the word should now be in the public domain. Also, the word “Escalator” was registered in 1900 by Charles Seeberger, a member of Otis Elevator Company. Again, the public’s use of the word “Escalator” as a noun for the moving staircase spelled doom for the trademark. No doubt companies would love to see their trademarks becoming synonymous with the products they represent – as a matter of fact there’s no better marketing than this. However, the list of fallen trademarks above amply demonstrates the misfortune that fame can bring.
So, how can companies (especially the ones with famous trademarks) avoid such an ignominious death for their trademarks? The key here is to prevent the trademark from falling into the Styx that is the lexicon of human languages. No idea what I was talking about? Just google it!
Some of you may have noticed that I have broken the cardinal rule of trademark maintenance. Yes, I just used a trademark as verb! Oh no! The end is nigh! But speaking of Google, Google Inc. recently got into a little kerfuffle with Språkrådet, the Swedish Language Council, which oversees the addition of new words to the Swedish lexicon, on the addition of the word “ogooglebar” (“ungoogleable” in English). Google had issued a legal complaint to Språkrådet requesting it to acknowledge Google’s ownership of the word “GOOGLEiv” as well as restricting the definition of the word from “something that you can’t find on the web with the use of a search engine” to “something that you can’t find on the web with the use of Google”. The word has since been taken off the Swedish lexicon by the council.
A trademark should be used only as an adjective and never a noun. For example, instead of saying “granny tasered the cross-dressing wolf with a taser”, you should say “granny electrocuted the cross-dressing wolf with a TASERv stun gun”. And instead of saying “Uncle Bill’s privates were badly burnt by the nescafe he’d spilled” you should say “Uncle Bill’s privates were badly burnt by the NESCAFE® coffee he’d spilled”. Also, note that I have used the word “TASER” in bold uppercase letters and also added the symbol ® behind the word “NESCAFE”, to highlight to readers that the words are in fact trademarks. There are several ways of highlighting a trademark in a text, you can use the ™ symbol, or you can use the word in UPPERCASE, bold, or italic. Also if your trademark is registered you are entitled to use the ® symbol (although the use of the symbol is not compulsory).
Normally, the owners of trademarks would use their trademarks in a proper manner (one would hope). However, others may not be so well versed with the proper usage of trademarks. Trademark owners should regularly monitor the market to see that their trademarks are properly used. This would include monitoring the print media, e.g., newspapers, magazines, as well as the electronic media, e.g., websites, e-mails, recordings and broadcasts. If you find that someone is using your trademark without acknowledging it as such, you can always send him/her a polite letter (passive aggressiveness goes a long way) to educate him on the proper usage of your trademark. In light of this, I think it is only proper to end this article with an example of how to acknowledge the trademarks of others in your works. For further details kindly refer to the fine print below.
- Frisbee® is a trademark of Wham-O, the correct terminology for the toy is a “flying disc”.
- WALKMAN® , the chosen tool of adolescence quiet civil disobedience, is a trademark of SONY Corporation.
- CLOROX® is the God-sent liquid manufactured by The Clorox Company which magically washes off all stains of infidelity (including but not limited to lipsticks).
- GOOGLE® is a trademark of Google Inc., an internet-based oracle with an answer to all of life’s questions, from “who should I marry” to “what’s that lump on my genital”.
- TASER® is a trademark of Taser International, makers of incapacitating electroshock weapons capable of reducing an assailant to an incontinent piece of meat.
© 2013 Vincent Teh, KASS Internation