The next time you shop for shoes, look for a tool to hang picture frames, or try to keep loose cables tied up, #DontSayVelcro. These days, the VELCRO® Brand means business. Just a year ago the company released a website and colorful advertisement but has also continued to educate the general public on the consequential damages of “genericide.” While this might be a ridiculous avenue, it’s clearly working to grab the attention of consumers like myself who are contributing to the destruction of this trademark.
The fight against “genericide” sounds like an organization going after a disease, which isn’t far off from the problem at hand. This malapropism created by the success of the company could lead to the ironic death of the trademark. For example, these other successful companies have lost their trademark and may not be recognized because their products are common in today’s vocabulary: aspirin, escalator, laundromat, and thermos. “Genericide” is a legal term that captures the process of a protectible trademark transitioning into a common noun through popular usage. Moreover, it turns the trademark generic (and not protectable) by coming to stand for the product itself and confusing consumers as to the source.
When a company goes to trademark their product, it’s important that they provide a mark that is less descriptive of the product and more arbitrary. A descriptive trademark that describes the product will have to acquire distinctiveness through what is known in the business as “secondary meaning.” This hurdle requires consumers to recognize that the trademark links the product to a source, which requires time and money to advertise the products for a period long enough to gain consumer recognition. However, once a trademark is granted it is up to the company through their lawyers, advertisements, and employees to keep their trademark from becoming generic and thus at loss.
In the case of VELCRO®, the company seeks to protect its 300 trademarked products from becoming generic as consumers tend to misuse the word “Velcro” as both a verb and in description of various products not made by the company. Instead a VELCRO® product is called a “Hook and Loop.” An example from their website demonstrates the ease of this mistake:
- Incorrect: He helped his son Velcro his shoes.
- Correct: He helped his son fasten his shoes.
The legal standard of whether a trademark is generic follows a two-part inquiry:
“First, what is the genus of the goods or services at issue? Second, is the term sought to be registered . . . understood by the relevant public primarily to refer to that genus of goods or services?” For companies, this means absorbing the expensive cost of protecting against trademark infringement and advertisements to help consumers connect the product to the source.
“Trademarking does not protect the right to reproduce a logo. A Trademark protects [the] investment in a relationship with [the] customers.”
Recently VELCRO has released a follow-up video, “Thank You For Your Feedback — Don’t Say Velcro.” In addition, VELCRO’s Senior Counsel and the Director of Global Brand have commented on the continued success by a decrease in the trademark’s misuse and responses via social media that signal consumers have picked up on the brand’s “hook and loop” fasteners. Other companies have also reached out in hopes of using the videos for their own company training. It’s safe to say that there is more to expect from VELCRO given their success.