IP Value Wire recently wrote of Millward Brown’s recent valuation of the top global brands, and Google’s #2 position at $113.7B. Yesterday a talking head on a news program suggested that listeners “Google” a story to check it out for themselves. Has the Google trademark been transformed into a verb, now in common usage? Is Google in danger of losing a $100B asset?
Dry ice, cellophane, aspirin, thermos, zipper, etc., lead a long list of trademarks that through common usage were declared generic in the United States, thereby losing their trademark status. Xerox is in the Oxford dictionary as a verb. Brand names can become generic when they are so commonly used that people associate the brand name for every product of that type regardless of who manufacturers it. A trademark becomes synonymous with a product, or, in Google’s case, a process. The process of performing an internet search is rapidly becoming “Googling.”
Tom Parrette’s classic article in Ads of the World lists strategies a company can use to protect their trademarks.
- Use a generic descriptor as a tag to the trademark. Parrette’s example is “Jello brand gelatin,” where Jello is paired with its own generic terms;
- Never use a brand in a generic sense; avoid making it a plural or adding a possessive;
- Direct others on how to use a brand, including when to include the ®;
- Publicize and reinforce a substitute term. Xerox was a little late in their efforts to do this; their substitute word was photocopy, and the U.S. was inundated with advertisements explaining the difference between photocopy and Xerox.