This issue keeps coming up on the Board, most recently here: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=432747
“Companies have to defend their copyright or it lapses”. The common wisdom, backed up by the horrifying examples of Aspirin, Cellophane, and Zipper. Steadfastly Defend It or Lose It.
But it’s demonstrably untrue, at least in most high-profile cases. “Coke” is used as a synonym for any soft drnk in large swatches of the South, yet Coca Cola doesn’t seem to be in danger of losing its signature nickname. I’d think that a challenge made to it could marshall a lot of evidence.
“Kleenex” is used as a synonym for “facial tissue” all over the place. “Xerox” is virtually a synonym for photostatic copy. “Band Aid” for Adhesive Bandage. And, more recentrly, “Google” for Internet search using a Search Engine 9or for the Search Enmgine itself). One could make an excellent case that these trademarks have been used so widely by the public that they’ve become generic.
But I seriously doubt that anyone ever will. And not because the folks behind Kleenex keep taking out those full-page ads in Writer’s magazines admonishing everyone to say “Kleenex-brand facial tissue”. (Ain’t gonna happen. The only place people write that way or speak like that is in copyright lawyer’s fantasies). It’s almost certainly because the companies are too large to screw with. And THAT, it seems to me, is the real mechanism retaining copyright.
So I don’t have much sympathy when Chrysler tries to nail a guy for using the name “Jeep” (Did they go after the people currently running "Popeye, fer cryin’ out loud?) or when Ralph Lauren goes after Polo magazine. They’re showing off their bullying muscles, and employing the REAl copyright defence – We’ve got deeper pockets and more lawyers than you, and we’re making our periodic high-profile case to remind everyone.