Here are some conventional products that used to have trademarked names: videotape, aspirin, dry ice, cellophane, linoleum, thermos, and heroin. Oh, and also escalators, kerosene, and laundromats.
Trademarks are tricky—almost paradoxical—things: The more popular your product gets, the greater the chance you lose control of its identity. Trademark law recognizes a spectrum of "distinctiveness" when it comes to products' names, ranging from "arbitrary or fanciful" (think Starbucks, Polaroid, and Apple-as-applied-to-computers) to "suggestive" (Whirlpool) to "descriptive" (Saltine crackers) to "generic." And once the Patent and Trademark Office determines that the name of your product—no matter how arbitrary /fanciful/suggestive it was at first—has become generic, you lose your trademark. You get, basically, cellophaned.
To counteract that, companies employ a slew of different strategies—some subtle, some very much less so—to associate their products with their brands in the minds of the public. And to prove, should they face a trademark challenge from a competitor, that they are actively protecting those brand identities. (Not to mention their brands themselves: Band-Aid's TV commercials now feature the adorable voices of children singing, "I am stuck on Band-Aid brand ...")
One of those strategies—a long-standing one—is advertising directly to the people who write about their products in the media. Companies place messages in trade publications targeted to journalists reminding them to include the ® when they're writing about products like Kleenex (sorry, Kleenex®), Botox (BOTOX®), and Tabasco (TABASCO®). They also place similar ads in legal trade pubs. Which is a more passive-aggressive, but possibly more effective, move—since a quick search through the archives of some of the biggest news outlets reveals references to those products that are noticeably ®-less.
Call it tradesplaining. Or just, you know, (TM)I. Herewith, a few notable examples of the quixotic pleas that have graced the pages of trade publications like the Columbia Journalism Review and the ABA Journal—reminders to the world that Botox is not "a generic term for botulinum toxin," that "rollerblade" is not a verb, and that Kleenex is, on top of everything else, a "brand name that we've worked so hard for all these years."
PriceWaterhouseCoopers (which is not a trademarked name, but is often misspelled as separate words):
Via Rebecca Onion, with big thanks to Dennis Giza, the general manager of the Columbia Journalism Review, for passing along the ads printed in CJR.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.