A Jiffy Bag™ by any other name…
You would think that the ideal for any company would be for their particular product to be so successful that its name becomes practically synonymous with the item. So, for example, if you want a particular kind of cold drink, but you don’t know what brand the shop or bar you’re in stocks, would you ask for a ‘cola’? Probably not, most people would ask for a ‘coke’, which is of course short for Coca-Cola™. And, no doubt, the people at the Coca-Cola™ company are delighted about this and that hardly anyone ever asks for a ‘Pepsi’, despite adverts doing their best to convince us otherwise.
But there is a real danger that if you are too successful, you can actually lose control over the name of your product. For example, did you know that ‘yo-yo’, ‘zipper’, ‘escalator’, ‘petrol’ and even ‘heroin’ all used to be trademarked names? All have proved to be so successful in entering common parlance that it has been legally ruled (although not necessarily in all countries) that the company that originally coined them can no longer claim sole usage. Such terms are known as ‘generic trademarks’ or ‘proprietary eponyms’.
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It is believed that the first proprietary eponym was linoleum, an invention of Englishman Frederick Walton, who lost control of the name of his product in an American court in 1878. Walton hadn’t actually trademarked the name, but the judge ruled that, even if he had, the name had become so widely used (within just 14 years!) that it had become generic.
This is why some companies can get very aggressive in preventing their name becoming used in this fashion. So, for example, Hoover™ get extremely upset when certain housework is described as ‘hoovering’, especially if it’s being done with a Dyson™; and imagine how narked the people at Google™ would be if their name, worth billions of dollars, became so synonymous with using a search engine on the internet that they no longer owned the rights to it.
There are many popular items sailing close to the wind in this respect, so be careful when using terms like jacuzzi™, biro™, ping pong™ and frisbee™ anywhere near lawyers. And if you describe yourself as an adrenaline junkie while in the USA, make sure anyone listening understands that a) you’re British and b) you’re spelling it with a lower case ‘a’ and with an ‘e’ on the end, and you should be fine. Be especially careful when using the term Durex™, which in the UK and Spain is a near-generic term for condom, but in Brazil and Australia is used generically for Sellotape™ – all kinds of legal and physical discomfort could ensue…
In the world of packaging (you knew I’d get there eventually!), there are several items sold via the Davpack website in this increasingly grey legal area. So, we sell BubbleWrap™, a trademark of Sealed Air, although other bubble wrap packaging is available. You can also buy Velcro™ from us, but we sell hook and loop tape as well (and don’t forget you need to order both for it to work!). And if you want some padded envelopes, you’re most likely to ask us for a Jiffy bag™, although you might be just as happy with one of the other brands we stock.
Adhesive and packing tape is a particularly, erm, sticky area in this field. We’ve already mentioned Sellotape™, while a similar problem exists in the US with Scotch tape™. And if you’re asking for duct tape, make sure you speak slowly and clearly, or the company that manufactures Duck Tape™, a brand of duct tape, will go quackers…
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