Have you ever wondered, when you look at a box of Jell-O, why the text says “Jell-O brand gelatin dessert“?
Or why the Dutch toy company takes great pains to say “LEGO bricks“?
Or why the box says “Kleenex brand tissue“?
Why do companies go to such great lengths to add extra verbage after thier name? Isn’t it enough for businesses to simply say Frisbee, TiVo, or Google without having to say “Frisbee flying disc“, “TiVo digital video recorder” or “Google search engine“?
Actually, no. It’s not enough.
Companies print out these extra words to protect their trademark. If a company name becomes too generic and the company does not take any effort to protect its product’s name as a trademark, the company can lose the protected use of that name.
Today, April 14, marks the 89th anniversay of one of the rulings that helped set that precedent. It was on this day in 1921 that Judge Learned Hand (now those were parents who had a wicked sense of humor) decided, in the case Bayer Inc, Co v United Drug Co., that the term “aspirin” was no longer a protected trademark. This meant that any company could use the word aspirin when selling the drug known as acetylsalicylic acid.
Companies spend a great deal of resources making sure customers identify a product with their brand name and they do not want competitors riding on those coattails. They know their history and do not want to go the way of the “yo-yo“, which was also once a protected trademark, until Duncan lost it.
Disclaimer: All product names are trademarks of their respective companies