It’s hard to believe, but a video made by the legal team at Velcro has gone viral – amassing nearly 300,000 views in less than two days. That means nearly 300,000 people now know about genericide, which is what happens when a brand loses its ability to function as a trademark.
ASPIRIN, ESCALATOR, FLIP PHONE, LAUNDROMAT, ZIPPER and THERMOS are just some of the words that were at one time registered trademarks, but lost their legal protection by becoming the common name of the relevant product or service.
Many companies go to great lengths to prevent genericide. Johnson & Johnson refers to its products as “BAND-AID brand bandages” – they don’t want every bandage to be referred to as a Band-Aid. (Remember the jingle “I am stuck on Band-Aid brand ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me”? It’s highly likely that a trademark lawyer got them to include the word “brand”!) Similarly, Xerox encourages consumers to refer to its products as XEROX brand photocopy machines. Folks who say things like “please Xerox this,” or “check out my new Nikes” are using brands generically and eroding their ability to function as trademarks.
As you’ll learn in the video, Velcro’s patent on its fastening technology expired some time ago, which means that third parties can manufacture goods with a “hook” and “loop” (those are the common words that Velcro wants us to use to describe the two pieces of material that stick together). When people refer to every “hook” and “loop” closure as “Velcro,” they are genericizing the VELCRO brand, which is an important asset that the Velcro company wants to protect.
To help combat this genericide, the company hired Penn Holderness, the guy behind the famous Christmas Jammies video, to produce an edgy video to educate consumers about both the VELCRO brand and proper trademark use. The opening verse sets the stage for the fun that follows:
We’re a company that’s so successful that everywhere you go
You see a scratchy, hairy fastener and you say, “Hey, that’s Velcro!”
But even though we invented this stuff, our patent lapsed 40 years ago
Now, no matter who else makes it – you still wanna call it “Velcro”
In protecting its own trademark, the Velcro company is doing a service for all brand owners. The takeaway is this: neither you nor your customers should use your trademark as a noun or verb. No matter the size of your company, proper trademark use and enforcement is essential in order to keep your brand strong.
If you haven’t already, watch the video. It’s well worth the two minutes.