–Dan Kelly, Attorney
Meet my trusty GE Electronic Digital FM/AM Clock Radio, Model No. 7-4624:
I don’t know if I can pinpoint it exactly, but this puppy has been with me for somewhere along the lines of twenty-eight years. It has been with me through junior high, high school, college, teaching, law school, lawyerdom, marriage, and the births of two children. A few weeks ago, it just stopped working. I went to work one morning, it was on my dresser faithfully displaying the time, and when I returned in the evening, no signs of life. No lights, no sounds, nothing.
OK, so this is a silly clock radio, but I think that I would be hard pressed to find another piece of personal property that has been with me this long. Its demise has led me to thinking: is twenty-eight years a long service life these days for a small appliance, or should I expect more? I am sure that there are much older clock radios and alarm clocks still working faithfully, and some younger models that long ago gave up the ghost.
I have frequently commented that when it comes to material goods, most of us live in a disposable society. We buy things, use them, they break, we discard them, and if we still have a need, replace them. I have also frequently repeated the trite but true phrase that you generally get what you pay for. Among competing goods, price is often a proxy for quality, or at least durability.
As readers will know, trademarks are repositories of goodwill, and they are also repositories of ill will. Of all the things that trademark law treats, it does not and, to my knowledge has never attempted to, measure or quantify goodwill. Measuring goodwill is, in many respects, the province of each individual consumer and the marketplace in general. We have some legal safety nets, such as products liability laws, laws prohibiting fraud, and the like, but assuming a company’s goods and services are above these floors, we, as consumers, can either take what is on offer or vote with our feet.
So this radio, for which my parents probably paid about ten bucks in the 80’s, has given twenty-eight years of service. It should be no surprise that it fared much better than the truly disposable Twins Countdown Timer. But did it die young? I’m inclined to think that twenty-eight years is a pretty good service life for an electronic clock radio, but I fear that my standards are low, that we live in an era of inflated goodwill. What about all of the older clock radios still faithfully chugging away? The spring-wound double-bell alarm clocks from long ago that are still faithfully ticking? Must products give a lifetime of service to be good? Do I reward GE with the purchase of a replacement clock radio based on this performance? Where does one buy heirloom quality clock radios? I don’t know the answers. I’m just asking the questions.