Why you should never use your brand names as a nouns or verbs

If you forget your elementary school grammar, a noun is  “a word (other than a pronoun) used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things common noun, or to name a particular one of these proper noun.”  Whereas, an adjective is “a word or phrase naming an attribute, added to or grammatically related to a noun to modify or describe it.”  

A trademark is meant to be an indicia of source, meaning, you know the source of what you buy because of the trademark on the package, and so you can have a reasonable expectation as to the quality of your purchase based on past experience with that brand. A trademark is not meant to be the only way to refer to a thing. Generic things are what are listed on the grocery store aisle signs, “bread, canned vegetables, juices, cereal.” Brands are unique suppliers of those generic things. Brand names, slogans, product names are trademarked, not generic names.

For example, a Mercedes is understood to be a certain luxury brand car, but not a generic term for cars, or even types of cars. Companies can get into trouble when their name becomes synonymous with the generic term for the thing that they provide. Generic things are not allowed to be trademarked, and when a term becomes generic, the USPTO may cancel their trademark. For example, Xerox has fought to keep their trademark alive because many people use their trademark to refer to the action of photocopying, or the term for a photocopy machine. We say “I’m going to go xerox this document” which sounds like “xeroxing” is an action, a verb. “Xerox” has even made it’s way into the dictionary as a synonym for photocopying. But it’s not a generic term, it’s a brand name and they want to keep it that way. The Xerox company has gone so far as to put out many ads about how to use their trademark so they don’t lose it to genericide. You will never see Xerox using their name that way, they will say something like,  “the best digital copies are made on a Xerox photocopy machine.” Notice that they use the generic term for what they sell after their trademark name? That is good Trademark hygiene right there. They have had to be very cautious about distinguishing between general photocopy machines which could be made by a number of different brands, and a Xerox photocopy machine, which of course they want to promote as being the best.

Tips for good Trademark hygiene:

  1. Try to capitalize your mark, but not the goods or services it applies to “Xerox photocopy machine” “Kleenex tissue” “Google search engine.” Capitalizing is used for proper names after all, but not for regular words.

  2. Use your mark as an adjective not a noun or a verb. Never “just google it” or “go xerox it.” Instead, “use a Band-Aid brand bandage” so people know that your brand is not synonymous with the goods or services you offer.

  3. Make sure your trademark is registered with the USPTO and make sure to have a monitoring and enforcement strategy in place.

If your brand isn't protected, get started with our flat fee trademark package today. 

What is a Trademark?

Trademarks were created by law to protect consumers. They are meant to be indicia of source, meaning, you know the source of what you buy because of the trademark on the package, and so you can have a reasonable expectation as to the quality of your purchase based on past experience with that brand. If any car company could slap a Ferrari logo on their car, or any soda maker could package their beverage in Coca-Cola packaging, we’d have a problem making our shopping decisions. Nowadays, people are more aware than ever of the power of a well developed brand identity. At the core of any brand identity is their unique trademark(s).

The United State Patent and Trademark Office manages federal Trademark registration in the U.S. A federal trademark gives you rights throughout the U.S. but not internationally. When you register a name with your state (and not all states, including California, register “trademarks” at the state level), you only have some protection in that state, but could be trumped by a federal trademark with regards to other states or territories.

A Trademark gives you the right to prevent others from using your registered mark as an indicia of source on their goods or services. So, only Nike can use the word “Nike” to sell shoes and athletic apparel. Nike can't prevent Art Historians from teaching about the statues from ancient Greece of the famed goddess Nike. 

Learn more about what a Trademark protects and what it doesn't here.

Learn more about how to choose your brand names wisely here. 

If you're ready to start protecting your brand, get started with our flat fee trademark package today.