- Google, Taser, and Xerox are all examples of brand names that have become generic words for a type of product.
- The process is known as genericization, and in some cases, it can result in companies losing their trademark.
- Escalator and kerosene are some lesser-known examples of brand names that have turned into ordinary words.
Sometimes there is a downside to being successful.
In the corporate world, if a company’s product is popular enough, it risks something called genericization, which is when the public associates the brand name with the generic class of product itself.
That’s the fate that befell Kleenex. Although Kleenex is a registered trademark of Kimberly-Clark Corporation, for many consumers, the word has become interchangeable with “tissue.”
Other brand names that have fallen victim to genericization include Google, Taser, and Xerox. Even common words like kerosene and escalator were once trademarked.
We’ve compiled a list of 34 famous brands that have become genericized, either formally or informally. While all of them have been trademarked at some point in their histories, a few of them have actually lost legal protection due to their name’s widespread popularity.
Introduced in: 1960
Company: Sealed Air Corporation
What it’s supposed to be called: Air bubble packaging
Bubble Wrap, in all its poppable glory, was originally called Air Cap. Its inventors first tried to market it as wallpaper, and later as greenhouse insulation. A few years later, it started being used as packaging material, and became popular after it started being used as packaging for IBM computers.
Introduced in: 1936
Company: Dempster Brothers
What it’s supposed to be called: Mobile garbage bin
In a mashup of ‘Dempster’ and ‘dump’, Dumpster came into being as a mechanical loading system. The term didn’t become popular until the company came up with the Dempter Dumpmaster, which was the first front-loading garbage truck that used the system. Unfortunately for the Dempsters, the trademarks on Dumpster have now expired, and it’s used to refer to any mobile garbage bin.
Introduced in: 1924
What its supposed to be called: Tissue, disposable handkerchief
The Kleenex tissue was initially marketed as a substitute for face towels, and was touted by Ladies’ Home Journal as “the new secret of keeping a pretty skin as used by famous movie stars.” Once it was re-branded as a handkerchief substitute, sales skyrocketed.
Eventually, Kleenex became a victim of its own success: its product was so popular that “Kleenex” became interchangeable with tissues in general.
Introduced in: 1900
What it’s supposed to be called: Conveyor transport device, moving stairway
The term became part of the public vernacular when Otis lost a landmark trademark case over the rights to “escalator” in 1950. The loss of the brand name was partly the company’s own fault — it was ruled that Otis had used the term “escalator” generically in its own advertising.
Company: Thermos, LLC.
What it’s supposed to be called: Vacuum flask
Thermos, LLC is big on temperature control. Its mantra, “Hot matters. Cold matters. It matters.,” has apparently resonated with consumers who enjoy their lunches at a certain temperature, as the Thermos has withstood the test of time.
It lost its trademark when the term was declared generic in 1963.
Introduced in: 1912
Company: Morton Manufacturing Company
What it’s supposed to be called: Lip balm
ChapStick is so popular that there are a number of websites devoted to “chapstick addiction.” Pfizer still has a registered trademark on this iconic product, yet the brand has become a genericized trademark over time.
Introduced in: 1957
What it’s supposed to be called: Flying disc
The frisbee, the college campus and beach day staple, has been trademarked by toy manufacturing giant Wham-O. The name derives from the Frisbie Baking Company in Connecticut — the company supplied pies to Yale University, where students discovered that throwing the plastic pie tins was a fun form of entertainment.
Sports that evolved out of the pastime, such as ultimate and disc golf, conspicuously don’t use “frisbee” in their names.
Introduced in: 1905
Company: Frank Epperson, later the Joe Lowe Company of New York
What it’s supposed to be called: Frozen ice treat on a stick
The legendary birth of the popsicle (Epperson left a syrupy drink outside in the cold overnight) gave way to a beloved American frozen treat, and later on, a number of copyright wars.
Today, the brand Popsicle is trademarked by Unilever, who makes it clear on its website that Popsicle is “NOT a name for just any frozen pop on a stick.”
Introduced in: 1940
Company: Westinghouse Electric Corporation
What it’s supposed to be called: Coin laundry shop
The Laundromat brand was first a wall-mounted automatic washing machine, created by legendary electrical company Westinghouse. In the 1950s it was also registered as coin laundry.
The trademark has since been genericized, and laundry shops across the world use it.
Introduced in: 1985
What it’s supposed to be called: Large-screen television
JumboTron is one the biggest non-projection video displays ever made. It originally was a multi-module CRT wall, but it has since adopted LED technology. Commentators and fans alike often call all arena big screens jumbotrons, even though Sony still has the trademark.
Introduced in: 1974
Company: Jack Cover, then Taser International, Inc.
What it’s supposed to be called: Stun gun
Tasers have revolutionized policing, and have saved countless lives by giving officers a tool that deploys non-lethal force. According to CBS’ “60 Minutes,” the Taser is now used by 16,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and is trademarked by Taser International.
Introduced in: 1953
Company: Frank J. Zamboni & Co.
What its supposed to be called: Ice resurfacer
Anyone who’s been to a hockey game is familiar with the Zamboni, the vehicle that glides around the rink between periods, washing the ice and clearing it of any shavings, scratches, and imperfections.
The vehicle is the brainchild of Frank Zamboni, and although other companies have imitated his groundbreaking machine, Zamboni remains by far the most popular example.
Introduced in: 1897
Company: Bayer Healthcare, LLC.
What it’s supposed to be called: Blood-thinning drug, acetylsalicylic acid
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