Size and prominence of wording on business signs, product labels and hangtags will often emphasize brand signals. Yet, sometimes decisions are made to scream generic names instead.

Never having seen the above shown wacky fresh fruit until recently, my assumption was that Buddha’s Hand represented a clever brand name for a certain type of citron fruit. Nope, generic.

The source-indicating information on the above shown Buddha’s Hand hangtag — the trademark — is barely legible, so I’ll help readers out: Ripe to You represents the above shown brand name.

So, what are the best practices when it comes to marketing commodities over brands and vice versa? The Branding Strategy Insider had an informative take on this topic just yesterday, here.

From my perspective, since brands manifest reputation, relationships and experiences, there must be accountability, and sometimes apologies are needed. Commodities, nope, not so much.

I’m thinking that while Ripe to You apparently is working to create market demand and interest in the unusual Buddha’s Hand fruit, more emphasis on the fruit’s generic name may take priority.

It also stands to reason that as Buddha’s Hand citron fruit becomes as understood as cherry tomatoes, tangelos, and bananas, the thing will speak for itself, and the brand will be paramount.

It’s also important to remember that when work is needed to create demand for a new category of products, attention on a memorable generic name can be as important as the brand name.

Otherwise, a brand owner launching a new category might find itself forever working to avoid the slippery slope of genericide, can you say, Rollerblade, Velcro, Band-Aid, and Peppadew?

Thankfully for Ripe to You, the clever and memorable Budda’s Hand generic name was handed to it on a silver platter, leaving the field wide open to focus on and emphasize its brand name.

I’d love to hear more insights from our extraordinary marketers and designers about when and how to balance the marketing of commodities/brands — when do you lead with Buddha’s Hand?

Jawbone-UpI’ve been wearing one of these little guys on my wrist for almost a year now. Love it. The personal awareness it raises for me in the areas of sleep, diet, and activity, has been profound.

Can’t tell you how many times folks have asked, “Is that one of those fit bits?” “Nope,” I sometimes say lazily and admittedly without trademark rigor, “it’s a Jawbone, but same idea.”

Lazily because I think I’m tired of reminding folks that fitbit is actually a brand, not a generic, category name for a type of health tracking device, and Jawbone is a major competitor of Fitbit:

fitbitlogo

 

My Jawbone is pretty amazing. I’m probably not using all the bells and whistles available, but it automatically tracks my sleep and steps, and I’m easily able to record what I eat and do.

Meanwhile, back to the trademark point, my absence of trademark rigor might also be explained by my serious question of what the appropriate generic term is for this category of products.

So, taking a stroll through MOA with my daughter revealed this Lululemon sign, and more importantly, the answer to my question: “Fitness tracker” is or should be the category term.

lululemonsign

Yet, only steps ahead, as we passed Brookstone, it became apparent that Fitbit doesn’t appear to fully embrace the “fitness tracker” term, opting more broadly for simply “trackers”:

BrookstoneFitbitDisplayI’m doubting the USPTO will ever allow the term “trackers” as an appropriate generic term, it’s simply too indefinite. It does, however, allow “wearable activity trackers” and that category name was added to the USPTO’s Trademark ID Manual months ago in January 2016.

“Pedometers” has been around as a pre-approved goods identification within the USPTO’s Trademark ID Manual since April 1991, but that description, while accurate as to one feature, it seems under-inclusive overall.

“Wearable activity trackers” seems like a good one, but it hasn’t gotten a lot of traction yet, as it appears there are only 244 pending trademark applications using this term in the description of goods field, including this odd one for GARMARVR, filed by a Chinese company.

Hello, Garmin — another heavy-hitter in the “fitness tracker” or “wearable activity tracker” category — you might want to take note of that recently filed trademark application.

A review of Fitbit’s description of goods in its first trademark registration at the USPTO isn’t much help either, too much of a mouthful, even with the bracketed deletions from the original ID:

“Multifunctional electronic devices for displaying, measuring, and uploading to the Internet information including time, date, [ body and heart rates, global positioning, direction, ] distance, altitude, speed, steps taken [, ] * and * calories burned [, navigational information, weather information, the temperature, wind speed, and the declination of body and heart rates, altitude and speed ].”

Having said that, Fitbit’s most recent application includes a nice attempt at a bite size term capable of being embraced by the general public for this category of goods — “Personal fitness trackers” — but, the Examining Attorney contends even that is too indefinite, so stay tuned.

This whole discussion reminds me of a few points we’ve made multiple times here before, so let’s take a few more steps together down memory lane:

  1. When a new product category is being launched — as we learned from the Rollerblade example (taking an entire decade to come up with “in-line skates”) — creating a great brand name is obviously important, but it is just as important to also create a suitable generic category term for the public to embrace once inevitable competitors appear.
  2. When a brand’s visual identity utilizes and encourages an all lower case style and format, as fitbit does, it might find itself on our Genericide Watch some day.

What do you think? Is fitbit flirting with disaster by using its all lower case branding style?

Also, has it lost an early opportunity to donate a suitable generic category name to the generic public so it doesn’t have to relinquish its trademark for that same purpose?

Our friend Professor Eric Goldman, over at his Technology and Marketing Law Blog, reported earlier this week that the Google trademark has survived a genericness attack by a fellow named David Elliot. Here is a link to Mr. Elliot’s complaint filed in Arizona federal court back in May of 2012, and here was Martha’s coverage. And, here is more coverage at the time labeling the challenge as being from the “land of slightly crazy lawsuits.” And, here is the Arizona federal court’s decision rejecting the genericness challenge. There.

Mr. Elliot’s focus in attempting to take down the Google trademark was primarily directed to the common verb meaning of the word to search the internet using any search engine, but the court wasn’t moved:

“The word google has four possible meanings in this case: (1) a trademark designating the Google search engine; (2) a verb referring to the act of searching on the internet using the Google search engine; (3) a verb referring to the act of searching on the internet using any search engine; and (4) a common descriptive term for search engines in general.”

The court noted that even if the third meaning was proven, the first meaning is the key meaning because the “undisputed evidence is that the consuming public overwhelmingly understands the word google to identify a particular search engine, not to describe search engines in general.”

Does this decision slam the door to all successful genericness challenges based on the verbing of your favorite brands? It would be a mistake to read it that broadly, in part, because the plaintiff was an individual, and the defendant was, well, Google — a brand reportedly worth more than $150 billion.

While you will recall that I have not been a nervous nellie when it comes to the risks of genericide based on the verbing of brands, if your opponent is not an individual and you’re not Google, this reading on the subject of trademark verbing and the risk of genericide is still highly useful and recommended:

Having said all that, I’m thinking the brand managers over at Rollerblade must be breathing a sigh of relief with this decision.

How concerned are you about genericide?

For those attending the HOW Design Live Conference in San Fransisco, you may have noticed the inside cover of HOW’s Special Issue on Interactive Design and Typography, most likely penned by a nervous trademark type:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nervous, I say, because these types of advertisements frequently are designed to help prevent unwanted genericide of a trademark. The idea generally is, let’s show and create a record that we are educating the public about our trademark rights and hopefully deterring misuses that otherwise might find their way into the public eye and influence the relevant public’s understanding of a term or symbol as being generic and part of the public domain, free for anyone to use, even competitors.

So, I suppose that Car-Freshner Corporation USA is wanting to influence designers behavior with this ad placement and disuade them from incorporating the green-colored product configuration trademark into things where it doesn’t belong.

A trademark type inclined to be nervous might also consider placing such an ad to cover the company name too. I’ll have to admit, I was quite surprised to see the trademark registration symbol next to the words Car-Freshner, but a review of the USPTO’s handy online database reveals it, in fact, is presently a federally-registered trademark for “absorbent bodies impregnated with a perfumed air deodorant.” Hmmm, might we add this one to the Genericide Watch list?

What is the generic category term for a car freshener if it isn’t Car-Freshner? I’m thinking the generic product description set forth above and found in the company’s trademark registration from 1959 hasn’t yet caught on and is not likely to catch on anytime soon.

It has too much of a feel like Rollerblade’s “boots equipped with longitudinally aligned rollers used for skating and skiing” example that pre-dated the incarnation of the more consumer-friendly generic “in-line skates” product category name.

So, which registered trademark deserves more attention to help avoid genericness, the green tree design or Car-Freshner?

If you were a Band-Aid brand adhesive bandage, and you were cut, would you protect yourself?

Brent, sorry I couldn’t help myself, I’m still enjoying your Louis Vuitton waffle-maker post.

With that intro, let’s turn another page to the Genericide Watch category, here at DuetsBlog:

In focusing attention on the first item in the list shown above, to the extent Johnson & Johnson were to promote “protective surgical dressing in the form of a bandage” as the generic product name or category of the goods (the generic name listed in the USPTO record), it might be understandable that others generically and mistakenly call them “Band-Aids”  — for example, as captured most recently on this hotel’s listing of complementary commodities.

It would be kind of like using the phrase “boots equipped with longitudinally aligned rollers used for skating and skiing,” instead of the more consumer-friendly and truncated “inline skates.” Yes, we’re talking again about how the Rollerblade brand may have found itself on the watch list too.

But what if you do things right, the brand does the best it can to protect itself from the small, gradual and persistent cuts that can lead to a complete loss of exclusive trademark rights? It appears Johnson & Johnson is focused on the risk, attempting to influence consumer understanding of the brand name by even placing the all-important word “brand” into the generic product description on packaging for Band-Aid branded products and elsewhere:

The brand also promotes use of the even more truncated generic reference “bandages” when touting itself as America’s #1 Bandage Brand.

Now, for all I know, the front desk at the hotel where I recently stayed might have sent up a few Band-Aid brand adhesive bandages, had I cut myself shaving, but I didn’t test the theory. And I’m not sure it would matter in the end, at least for the purposes of our discussion here, since widespread examples like the one depicted above tend to influence the meaning of the word to consumers and probably don’t bode well for the outcome of a Teflon-style trademark genericness survey.

In the end, the majority of relevant consumers’ understanding decides the question of whether a word functions primarily as a brand or primarily as a generic designation, remember my prior discussion about the Kleenex brand?

To our marketing colleagues who might find flattery and branding success in “owning or becoming the category name,” know that there is no ownership possible once this happens. Imagine a day when 3M could label its competing products “NEXCARE Brand Band-Aids” or Medline uses labeling reading: “CURAD Brand Band-Aids.” Would you really want to be the brand manager explaining — at the brand’s funeral — how this death to commodity status helps the brand at that point?

Perhaps this is the most vivid and compelling illustration of why some trademark types refer to the trademark genericide problem as “death by a thousand cuts.”

With the upcoming 2012 presidential election, this is the time during our American political cycle where spinning is almost a sport — at least an expected activity. Puns intended, as you’ll see.

Over the last several years, I’ve heard my wife speak about “spinning classes” at a local health club (mind you, not at the local political party caucuses) — so, a different type of spinning altogether. This spinning, I’ve come to learn, involves “classes centered around choreographed group rides on stationary bikes, usually led by an instructor with heavy background music to keep you moving.”

So, after a loyal DuetsBlog reader brought these Spinning (note the capital S) trademark use guidelines to my attention, I felt compelled to ask my wife whether the spinning she had often spoken of was a branded activity or a generic one that anyone could offer. She indicated the latter (along the lines of pilates, yoga, or karate), and trust me, those in my house are well-educated about the difference between brands and generic terms.

Having said that, what my wife didn’t know is that one of her other favorite activities called “pilates,” was once a registered trademark, and as of at least 2000, it was found generic and to be part of the public domain as the common generic name for an exercise method, not a trademark. And, she also didn’t know that Mad Dogg Athletics, Inc. owns a large collection, dare I say, family of SPINNING and related trademarks:

  1. SPINNING in Int’l Class 41 (training and instruction);
  2. SPINNING in Int’l Classes 9, 25, and 28 (videos, clothing, and exercise equipment);
  3. SPINNING in Int’l Classes 9 and 16 (computer software and manuals);
  4. SPINNING in Int’l Class 32 (sport drinks);
  5. SPINNING in Int’l Class 5 (nutritional supplements);
  6. SPINNING in Int’l Class 12 (bike parts);
  7. SPINNING in Int’l Classes 3 and 18 (non-medicated lotions and sports bags);
  8. SPINNING in Int’l Class 41 (providing facilities for recreation);
  9. SPINNING in Int’l Class 41 (providing information over the Internet);
  10. SPINNER in Int’l Class 28 (exercise equipment);
  11. SPIN in Int’l Classes 28 and 41 and (stationary bicycles and physical fitness instruction); and
  12. SPIN in Int’l Class 5 (nutritional supplements).

So, what will be the long term fate of this impressive “family” of trademarks? Will the fate be the same as the “pilates” term, or will the referenced trademark use guidelines save the day for Mad Dogg? As we have cautioned before, here and here, the Spinning guidelines correctly discourage lower case type styles (i.e., no “spinning” or “spinner” uses, please), they also discourage verbing (i.e., no “Come spin with us,” please), and they also discourage nouning (i.e., no “Get Spinning,” please). But, I’m sorry, I thought “spinning” was a verb?

Well, I wouldn’t hold your breath (on the trademark use guidelines saving the day), while riding your stationary cycle anyway (especially if combined with any pilates activity, as breathing is quite important to, at least, the pilates method, I’m told).

Now, if you’re steadfast in preventing your trademark from spinning out of control and degenerating into a generic term, would you link it to other known generic exercise terms and methods? You might be surprised to learn that these three composites are currently federally-registered trademarks of the same Mad Dogg owner: SPIN FITNESS, SPIN PILATES, and SPIN YOGA (fitness, pilates, and yoga, all disclaimed). I’ll have to say, these combinations seem like a recipe for a trademark disaster.

Perhaps most surprisingly the Spinning trademark use guidelines state:

“The word Spinning as it pertains to indoor cycling was coined by our company, and is an arbitrary word we selected for our stationary bicycle exercise program. We also coined the name Spinner for our stationary exercise bicycle.”

Are you buying this birth story? Wouldn’t an admission of suggestiveness garner more credibility without sacrificing inherent distinctiveness, at least at birth?

Let’s just say, when the wheel on the stationary bike goes round and round, another more efficient way to communicate the same motion is to say it spins or is spinning. Coined? Arbitrary? Really?

And, as you will recall, one of the points I’ve made before about avoiding the hazards of trademark genericide, especially when a new product or service launches an entirely new category (as the case appears to be here with Spinning, since Mad Dogg’s website lauds itself as the “Creators of Indoor Cycling”) is to make sure the brand owner also adopts a commercially acceptable generic term for the good or service — one that easily will be used and embraced by the relevant comsuming public.

Remember how it took Rollerblade ten costly years of trademark misuse in the public to come up with the efficient generic designation “in-line skates”? — having started out with the far more wordy and complex “boots equipped with longitudinally aligned rollers used for skating and skiing.” I see that the Spinning website nicely refers to “indoor cycling” — yet, here is the twenty year old relic from one of its early trademark filings: “providing training and instruction to others by simulating an outdoor bicycle workout completed indoors on a stationery bicycle.” 

In the end, do you believe that a majority of the relevant consuming public views Spinning as a brand name or the generic name for an activity or method of exercise?             

So, I must ask you dear readers, is the Spinning trademark spinning out of Mad Dogg’s control, or should we be asking the question in past tense?

These kinds of signs — that appear to single out Rollerblade brand in-line skate loyalists — are all over the place. This one happens to be in the parking garage I use in downtown Minneapolis.

To understand why the Rollerblade brand may find itself in this perilous position, read on, here.

For some additional reading on the related question of verbing brands, take a look at this series of posts:

What do you think, do these kinds of "No Rollerblading" signs help or hurt the Rollerblade brand? How about the Rollerblade trademark?

And, where do you come down on the verbing of brands issue?

We’re not talking the foamed footwear Crocs® that Randall Hull wrote about in his What a Croc! post from a couple of weeks ago. Instead, we’re talking slow cookers — on this snow-capped Valentine’s Day in the Twin Cities.

Every once in a while a stroll down the grocery store aisle leaves me surprised when I spot a federal registration symbol next to a word that I thought was a generic term for the goods or services in question. Today was such a day, when I noticed Sunbeam’s Crock-Pot® The Original Slow Cooker appliance on the store shelf. Apparently I’m not alone in my surprise at the trademark status, given Wikipedia’s acknowledgment that Crock-Pot is a trademark "often used generically in the USA" — and Slo-Cooker is a trademark "often used generically in the UK."

It appears the Crock-Pot® trademark was originally registered back in 1972, and a couple of years ago federally-registered protection for the trademark was extended into a number of different classes of goods at the U.S. Trademark Office for a variety of different products, including food, and some cooking accessories. Last June, this logo was federally registered by Sunbeam, but it specifically disclaimed any exclusive rights in the descriptive phrase "The Original Slow Cooker":

I’m left wondering whether this is like the Rollerblade example, where it took the owner of the Rollerblade brand an entire decade to battle genericide by developing a commercially acceptable generic term (in-line skates) to couple with the brand.

Here are a few questions for marketing types to ponder and discuss: If you’re Sunbeam, owner of the federally-registered Crock-Pot® trademark, do you care if retailers and your direct competitors call their competing products a Crock-Pot too? What about Search Engines selling Crock-Pot as a keyword, do you care about that? If so, how much do you care? Is it important enough to spend dollars on stopping these kinds of actions?

Just so no one is left out, here, for you trademark types out there, what steps would you take to avoid having the Crock-Pot® trademark invalidated on genericness grounds?

Same drill for the Bundt® trademark that Dan wrote about prior to the holidays.

There is a growing interest and, quite frankly, a dogged persistence among branding professionals to select brand names that have the ability and potential to be “verbed.” This makes trademark attorney types nervous and those of the “Dr. No” variety actually become unglued.

So, why the emphasis or fascination with verbs anyway? The answer apparently can be found in the definition of a verb: “A verb is a doing word (helping, grabbing).” This feature is appealing to marketers. In addition, some argue that “verbing” a brand extends its reach through effective “word of mouth branding.” Some feel so strongly about the marketing benefit they argue that “having the public utter your company name as a verb is like going to heaven without the inconvenience of dying. Getting ‘verbed’ is the ultimate accomplishment for any brand — the marketer’s Shangri-la.”

As marketing maven Seth Godin argued as early as 2005: “Nouns just sit there, inanimate lumps. Verbs are about wants and desires and wishes.” Given that limited binary choice, David Cameron’s recent and thoughtful “Brandverbing Brands” post on his OnBrands Blog, asks a reasonable question: “Wouldn’t you rather have your brand in the latter category?”

I’m wondering and you might be wondering too, what happened to door number three? We’ll get to that, patience.

Continue Reading Just Verb It? A Legal Perspective on Using Brands As Verbs: Part I

Microsoft is flashing its latest version of bling with its launch yesterday of the much anticipated “decision engine” it has dubbed Bing. I agree the new brand name has a nice ring (according to Microsoft, the “sound of found”), with great brevity, rhythm and cadence, but sorry, I’m sticking with the generic name “search engine,” with good precedent for doing so, as Microsoft’s pending trademark applications reference the terms “search engine” and “searching” several times, with no mention of any “decision” thing.

As far as I can tell, Microsoft has not created a new product category here, one that might justify re-naming the underlying generic term for an entirely new category, as Rollerblade attempted to do ten years after-the-fact with “in-line skates,” instead we simply have a new brand name for another “search engine,” Microsoft’s search engine.

Do you suppose Microsoft’s brand mavens recognized that Bing might also stand for: But It’s Not Google?

OK, now for the rest of the story and my many other Bing insights, you’ll need to ping on over to Catchword Branding’s “Catch This” Blog. While there you might want to take their Bing survey!