9 international product trademarks that morphed into an entire product category

This article identifies some everyday products that have become the victims of trademark genericization, meaning they’ve morphed from a single product identified under a name to an entire product category


While some of the 9 products below are truly victims of genericide, having had their trademarks canceled in a court, others simply failed to register as trademarks at all, or in some cases, weren’t renewed or were abandoned for other reasons.


Formally known as acetylsalicylic acid, aspirin was created in 1897 and originally trademarked by Bayer AG. The name means “pain relief, speed, reliability and tolerability,” according to Bayer. Aspirin comes from “acetyl” and Spirsäure, a German name for salicylic acid. Its time as a trademarked word would be short — in 1917 many of Bayer’s U.S. assets were confiscated as a result of World War 1, including its patents and trademarks.


Speaking of losing trademarks, heroin was also stripped from Bayer in 1917. The drug derived from morphine was named trademarked by the company in 1898 based on the German word heroisch, which means “heroic, strong.” Couldn’t find mention of its heroin history on Bayer, which is unsurprising.


Cellophane gets its name from regenerated cellulose (the stuff that makes up much of plant’s cell walls) and diaphane, or transparent. It was created by Swiss chemist Jacques E. Brandenberger and patented in 1912. In 1923, DuPont chemists created a moisture-proof system for cellophane. It has since become genericized in the U.S., though still trademarked in other countries. Plastic wrap isn’t cellophane, by the way — it’s polyvinyl chloride.


First coined by Charles Seeberger of Otis Elevator Co. in 1900 when he debuted his device. The word comes from the roof the word scala for “steps” in Latin, with “E” as the prefix, and a suffix of “Tor.” Roughly, that means “traversing from.” It was also supposed to be pronounced with the accent on the middle syllable — es-CA-lator. Otis lost the trademark when the U.S. Patent Office ruled that even Otis had used escalator as a generic descriptive term in its own patents. It was officially genericized.


The first modern trampoline was built by George Nissen and Larry Griswold in 1936, and comes from the Spanish for “diving board” — trampolin. The generic term for it before was actually the “rebound tumbler.” It’s unclear when it lost its trademark, but anyone can now sell a trampoline.


The predecessor to the thermos was Sir James Dewar’s “vacuum flask,” invented in 1892. The Thermos first hit the market in 1904 for commercial use, named as such by German glass blowers who held a contest to name the product. A Munich resident suggested Thermos from the Greek Therme for “heat.” Thermos GmbH sold trademark rights to three independent companies in 1907, who then began producing it and selling it around the world. It was named a generalized trademark in the U.S. in 1963, but remains a registered trademark in some other countries.


Abraham Gesner registered a trademark for combustible hydrocarbon liquid, derived from the Greek “kerns” for wax, in 1854. The North American Gas Light Company and the Downer Company were the only ones allowed to use the term for some years, until it eventually became genericized.


While Linoleum — from the Latin linum for “flax” and oeum, “oil” — was considered to be the first term to become generic, it was never trademarked by its English inventor, Frederick Walton. He established the Linoleum Manufacturing Company Ltd in 1864, but apparently never trademarked the term in the first place. That fact came to light when Walton was facing competitors in court in the late 1870s. By that time, the generalization had already happened, and it was too late.

App Store

Apple sued Amazon in 2011 claiming consumers could be confused by its “Appstore for Amazon” but then abandoned the trademark and the lawsuit in 2013.


Adapted from the Consumerist

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