Yellow Book USA, Inc. has embarked on a marketing campaign telling consumers to “Yellowbook It” when they need to search for something. Although Yellow Book USA, Inc. does not own a federal registration for YELLOWBOOK, its does use the ™ symbol behind the term on its Web site to signal to consumers that it is a trademark. From a marketing perspective, having consumers use your trademark as the term to signify searching a directory certainly increases the visibility of the brand. On the other hand, from a trademark perspective, when consumers start using a trademark to identify to a specific thing or action, it signals the end of all trademark rights.
The function of a mark is to identify and distinguish the goods or services of one seller from those sold by another seller. A “generic” term does not identify and distinguish goods or services. A mark may be generic for one product but not for another. For example, APPLE is generic for the fruit of the apple tree, but not for computers, and CATERPILLAR is generic for the larva of a butterfly, but not for earth moving equipment. Furthermore, a mark may become generic if the owner fails to properly enforce its rights in the mark or educate the public on the proper way to use its mark. This occurrence is known as genericide and DuetsBlog has discussed this phenomenon before. Therefore, because generic matter does not identify and distinguish goods or services, it possesses no distinctiveness and falls on the unprotectable side of the spectrum of distinctiveness.
Yellow Book USA, Inc.’s strategy is reminiscent of the issue Google faced. However, Google did not embrace consumers referring to searching the Internet as “Google it.” Rather, Google aggressively went the other way educating consumers on the proper use of its trademark. Today, Google has included trademark use guidelines on its Web site, which include the following rule: “Use a generic term following the trademark, for example: GOOGLE search engine, Google search, GOOGLE web search.”
Therefore, while Google and other companies are trying to avoid genericide, Yellow Book USA, Inc. seems content with running full speed towards it. I assume they are aware of the risk they are taking, at least I hope so.