This kind of sign is all over the place. They are readily available for sale on-line too, see here, here, and here. In fact, a similar one is posted on every level of at least one parking garage in downtown Minneapolis. What does it mean to you? How about to the Rollerblade® brand?

For example, would you be “o.k.” skating in the vicinity of the sign wearing, say, K2® brand in-line skates, or perhaps, Nike® Bauer® in-line skates? Would the owner of the real estate who posted the sign agree? Would Nordica® agree, as the owner of the ROLLERBLADE® mark? Doubtful.

Similar misuses of the ROLLERBLADE® brand appear in city and township ordinances and in meeting minutes across the country. Some make “unlawful” the operation of a “skateboard or rollerblade” except on sidewalks. Others forbid “rollerblading (which is the same as inline skating).” Yet others seem to only forbid “rollerblading” when there is a “dog in tow.” Ah, right. Some progressive cities have had the foresight to forbid not only “rollerblading,” but “roller skating” too, closing the potential branding loophole defense, for us trademark types.

How does this happen? Seth Godin’s recent blog post “Where’s the Baxter?” may have some application here, perhaps with a little embellishment by yours truly. Mr. Godin correctly reminds us of the importance of creating a “name” for a new product, especially when “you make something remarkable,” or “its something that hasn’t been done before,” basically, when “you’ve created something worth talking about,” and it may disappoint others to learn when they like the name too, it “is already taken.” When something is “taken” in the naming context, we’re talking about brand names, not generic names. The former can be owned, the latter cannot. So, brand names seem to get the most attention prior to launching a revolutionary new product or service.

Getting much less attention, and deserving far more, is the need to create an acceptable generic name too, especially when the new product is truly “remarkable,” and appears headed for creating a new category. For example, had Rollerblade® adopted, embraced, and promoted “in-line skates” as the generic name for the category it “pioneered” in the early 1980s, it seems unlikely the misuses would be as prevalent as they are today. How do we know it didn’t take these early steps? Besides my imperfect consumer recollection from the decade of the 1980s, I rely on the clunky patent-like generic product description set forth in the original ROLLERBLADE® trademark registration (1985), covering “boots equipped with longitudinally aligned rollers used for skating and skiing.” Uh, not a very consumer-friendly sound-bite. As far as I can tell, it wasn’t until the close of the 1980s that the term “in-line skating” or “in-line skates” began to appear, at least, in Rollerblade® trademark filings, see the 1990 U.S. registration for TEAM ROLLERBLADE®. A decade is a lot of history to erase.