I googled ‘Genericide’, and this is what I found
By Tunicia Phillips
South Africa has many famous household brands that have become synonymous with the actual product. In the context of township living for example; I don’t know anyone who says petroleum jelly because there are several brands that make it, they say Vaseline. ‘Chappies’, you may have started calling bubble gum just that in your later years, but every hood grown child knows bubble gum as nothing else but ‘chappies’. The same applies for toothpaste, people in townships rarely refer to toothpaste as that, instead, people refer to Colgate, as if there aren’t over fifty options for toothpaste at any given time in a grocery store. I bet it never occurred to consumers around the world that this habit may put their favourite brands at risk.
The first time I heard the word ‘genericide’; I must admit, only very recently; my mind was flooded with images of something murderous. Maybe that’s because the word so closely resembles genocide, but that could just be a moment of naivety on my part. To explain the term, note how the title of this piece refers to ‘googling’ something, and not searching the web for something. That’s exactly what ‘genericide’ refers to, a point where a brand name becomes so big, its name refers to the generic term for an entire class of something.
A brand is only however, truly a ‘genericised’ trademark once a court rules so. What do Asprin, Trampoline, Yo – Yo, Laundromat, Escalator and Cellophane share in common? They are all major brands who have lost their trademark because their big dreams became somewhat of a nightmare. Essentially, all of these brands have lost their trademark because the term, Yo – Yo or Asprin became synonymous with the actual thing.
On Tuesday, May 16, Google celebrated a great victory in a ‘genericide’ case where it was argued that the word Google, has become synonymous with searching the internet. The US Circuit Court of Appeals court justified its decision because Google, is more than just a search engine. The court case got me thinking about how many South African brands could arguably be genericised?
In the age of ‘death by nouns’, it seems trademarks and patents are increasingly at risk of losing ownership of their popular household brand names. It’s truly an indirect attack on brand success, and an even greater attack on ownership. But, it may be one of those things that many brands will have no control over. You can’t exactly ask your market to stop using your brand name to describe a generic thing; word of mouth after all, is what companies are made of.
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